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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 17:42 GMT
Abortion row at Catholic hospital
Cormac Murphy-O'Connor
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor launched an investigation last year
A Catholic hospital has been admonished by the leader of the church in England and Wales for referring patients for abortions and contraceptives.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O' Connor has asked the St John and St Elizabeth Hospital in north London to tighten up its code of ethics.

The private hospital says no abortions are undertaken or contraceptives prescribed on the premises.

But it argues its doctors are obliged to refer people elsewhere for advice.

A catholic hospital cannot refer people for abortions - they can't say you can't have it here but there's a place just round the corner
Archbishop of Westminster's spokesman

A spokeswoman for the hospital, known as John and Lizzie's, said: "Under General Medical Council code of practice, which all UK doctors must observe, the doctors must provide information to patients who request abortions or contraceptives.

"So they will be referred to external services for advice and counselling."

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor asked a Catholic peer to investigate complaints that Catholic teaching was not being upheld at the hospital.

He had been advised to do so by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

In his letter to the hospital's chairman, Lord Bridgeman, the cardinal said "differences of opinion" had emerged about how the code of ethics applied to areas such as referrals for direct abortion and contraception, particularly for the morning after pill.

Code of ethics

He said: "In fairness to healthcare professionals, patients, and benefactors, 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."

The hospital insists it has been doing nothing more than following rules laid out by medical regulatory body the GMC.

But a spokesman for the Archbishop of Westminster said the hospital's own code of ethics needed to be set out in a clearer way so that even doctors who were not Catholic knew what their obligations were at the institution.

"A Catholic hospital cannot refer people for abortions - they can't say you can't have it here but there's a place just round the corner," the spokesman added.


Equally it cannot carry out tests for foetal deformities if it knows the mother-to-be would have an abortion if the results were positive, he said.

The hospital's chairman, Lord Bridgeman, said: "We accept Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor's recommendation that we review our code of ethics.

"Any revision of the code will take into account the Cardinal's views in addition to the hospital's existing legal, medical and charitable obligations.

"Our duty of care to patients remains paramount, and during this review process our doctors will continue to operate within the existing code of ethics."

A General Medical Council spokeswoman said if doctors felt unable to offer a certain kind of treatment because of their beliefs they were obliged to inform the patient of this and inform them of their right to see another doctor.

The issue may become more problematic when the hospital allows doctors to operate NHS practices from its premises.

Currently, kidney dialysis and caring for terminally ill patients in the on-site St John's Hospice is the main NHS work carried out by the hospital.

They do not provide maternity services for the NHS.

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