London: Catholic hospital directors resign over new ethics code

 Two members of the board of directors of St John's and St Elizabeth's hospital in St John's Wood, north London, Dr Martin Scurr and Lord Fitzalan-Howard, have resigned, over the board's decision to adopt a Catholic code of ethics. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor ordered the code to be revised in 2005, after it was reported that some GPs at the hospital had been prescribing the morning-after pill and referring patients for abortions. In a letter to hospital chairman Robin Bridgeman, in May this year, the Cardinal said: "There must be clarity that the hospital, being a Catholic hospital with a distinct vision of what is truly in the interests of human persons, cannot offer its patients, non-Catholic or Catholic, the whole range of services routinely accepted by many in modern secular society as being in a patient's best interest." Lord Bridgeman told the board that financial losses incurred by refusing the NHS practice would force the hospital into bankruptcy. He said the hospital would "face economic dissolution" if the ethics code were approved. In November, the hospital agreed to adopt the new code, which bars employees from any act that conflicts with Catholic teaching on the sanctity of human life and on sexuality. The code does not allow the hospital to provide abortion referrals, contraceptives or the provision of IVF treatment. Dr Scurr and Lord Fitzalan-Howard voted against adopting the revised code. Dr Scurr said the adoption of the Catholic ethics code placed "Catholic values" above patient care. He said: "In the matter of modern medical care the Cardinal has chosen to listen to individuals who have no specific expertise in that arena. The damage to the church will be worse if the hospital closes, unless he chooses to withdraw his patronage." St John's and St Elizabeth's was founded in 1856 by the Sisters of Mercy, who worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war. As an independent private hospital and registered charity, patients pay fees for treatment. Its surplus profits are used to support one of London's largest hospices, St John's Hospice, offering care free of charge to patients living in the local community, with life threatening illnesses.

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