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The Evening Standard (UK), JSeptember 19, 2007

Pope Asked To Step Into Hospital Abortion Row

Doctors will not follow Church code.


THE Pope is to be asked to intervene in a row over contraception and abortion that has rocked a London maternity hospital.

The dispute at the Hospital of St John and St Elizabeth in St John's Wood is over a new code that instructs staff at the Roman Catholic hospital to comply with the church's teachings.

The code forbids all staff and resident GPs from providing contraceptives and abortion referrals and also bans amniocentesis to detect Down's syndrome in unborn children, which carries a risk of miscarriage, and in vitro fertilisation for couples unable to conceive naturally.

But the hospital, which is run as a Catholic charity, has had to delay its introduction in the face of opposition from doctors and executives who have threatened to quit if they are made to comply.

A lobby group now plans to contact Pope Benedict XVI to ask him to end the impasse by ordering the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, who is a patron of the hospital, to use his legal authority to insist the code is implemented. The Restituta Group, which campaigns to retain the hospital's Catholic identity, is particularly concerned that an NHS general practice being set up at the hospital will provide the full range of family planning services.

Nicolas Bellord, secretary of Restituta, said: "In the absence of any credible explanation for these astonishing developments, accompanied by timely and effective legal action, we will have no alternative but to refer the matter to his Holiness the Pope. It has been agreed that where the requirements of the NHS conflict with Catholic ethics the requirements of the NHS will prevail. The Catholic authorities have been totally ineffective in preventing this happening when they had the legal powers to do so."

Nicknamed Johns and Lizzies, the hospital was founded by the Church in 1856 and was once run by the Sisters of Mercy, an order which worked with Florence Nightingale in the Crimean war. It was where Cardinal Basil Hume died of cancer in June 1999.

Described in magazines as the "poshest place to push", its maternity unit has become popular with famous local residents. Heather Mills, Kate Moss, Cate Blanchett and Emma Thompson are among those to have given birth there. It also accepts some NHS referrals.

The code was drawn up after the Linacre Centre of Healthcare Ethics, a Catholic bioethical institute, raised concerns that some doctors - most of whom are not Catholics - were flouting the existing code.

A spokesman for the Archbishop said: "The Cardinal is actively engaged in finding a solution to these important issues. [He] sincerely hopes the board will make the right decision." No one at the hospital was available for comment.

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