John & Lizzie's - important comment from Luke Gormally

Luke Gormally, Honorary Fellow of the Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics has kindly sent a comment to my article yesterday. Since this clearly sets out some important and very worrying information, I feel that it should be given prominence in a post rather than being left in the combox.

Professor Gormally writes:


The situation at John&Lizzies is one of grave scandal. The Cardinal has the authority in the constitution of the Hospital to determine the ethical norms that should govern clinical practice there. When objections where referred to the Cardinal in 2004 to admission of the St John's Wood Medical Practice, which is contractually committed to providing the full range of 'family planning services', including referrals for abortion, he in turn referred the matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) - though in truth the issue was clear cut. 

The Hospital Management (which has long been non-Catholic) argued that there was no clear prohibition in the existing Code of referrals for abortion. The case was presented in somewhat unsatisfactory terms to the CDF who asked the Cardinal to establish a Committee to enquire into practice at the Hospital and what might be required to render the existing Ethics Code unambiguous in its directives. The Cardinal after some delay established the Brennan Committee (under Lord Brennan), a Committee which included Professor John Finnis in its membership. 

This Committee eventually reported to the Cardinal in early 2006 and on 6 March that year following the advice of the Committee the Cardinal wrote to the then Chairman of the Hospital Board, Lord Bridgeman, requiring specific additions to the Code which made it unambiguously clear that no doctor practising at the Hospital was to refer for procedures, including abortion, which were contrary to moral truth as identified in the teaching of the Church. He asked that the Code be revised along these lines by the end of 2006, and that the following year the Hospital should set up a system of ethical governance to ensure that the Code was being observed. Lord Bridgeman disbanded the previous Ethics Committee, three of whose members, including Dr Helen Watt, had been at the forefront of complaining about unethical practices at the Hospital (it had, among other things, become the major centre in the UK for female to male transgender surgery), and established a new Ethics Committee. 

This first met in September 2006 and I was, somewhat to my surprise, recruited to the Committee in October 2006. Lord Bridgeman's chosen Chairman of the Ethics Committee was extremely reluctant to proceed to the revision of the Code as required in the Cardinal's letter to Lord Bridgeman, but some of us managed to produce a revision of the Code in early 2007 precisely along the lines specified in the letter of 6 March 2006. This revised Code was then formally agreed by the Ethics Committee. Before it was presented to the Hospital Board however it was presented at the insistence of Management and Lord Bridgeman to the Medical Advisory Committee (MAC) of the Hospital. This is composed of a group of doctors not one of whom is a Catholic. They rejected the Code. 

It subsequently emerged at a meeting with this Committee that they regarded the Code as having no authority over them and indeed viewed the Hospital as already a secularised institution. The view of the MAC was then invoked as a reason for non-acceptance of the Code by the majority of those on the Board with a secularising agenda for the Hospital. However, in the later part of 2007 there were a number of resignations from this group and towards the end of the year those members of the Board who had been faithful to the terms of the Hospital's Trust Deed and had sought to retain its catholicity found themselves in a sufficient majority to approve the Code. 

At this point the Cardinal intervened and demanded the resignation of those faithful few. Though he had no legal authority to do so, his wishes were complied with by a number who felt obliged to defer to his moral authority. Lord Guthrie was then installed as the new Chairman of the Board and he accepted this position on condition that he would be able to re-populate the Board with his own nominees. One of these is Sir Mark Allen who from a career as a spy master has now assumed Chairmanship of the Hospital's Ethics Committee. He has produced a Code which to anyone who knows about the controversy over the past 4 years about the ethical norms which should govern clinical practice at the Hospital is manifestly a complete capitulation to the demands of the MAC that certain key demands of Catholic moral teaching should have no authority over what they decide and do with their patients in consulting rooms in the Hospital. What happens in the operating theatres may be more restricted than hitherto, but the most striking thing about the new Code is the complete absence of any prohibition of referrals for abortion.

I began by saying that the situation is one of grave scandal. It is so because the Cardinal has given his approval to this new Code. The Church's teaching about the grave wrongness of abortion and cooperation in abortion has been sacrificed for essentially financial interests. How can the Church in this country effectively defend the sanctity of life when its Chief Shepherd is prepared to approve a Code which effectively accommodates referrals for abortion? A spokeswoman for the Brook Advisory Centres is reported as welcoming the liberalization of the Hospital's Code. That tells us pretty cleary where the Cardinal has got us to.

Urgent prayers, and action by some, are needed to reverse this situation.

Luke Gormally

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