Catholic hospitals and abortion


Sir, – Dr Andrew Shorten (Letters, May 21st) responds to a point of mine (Letters, May 20th) by arguing that there are important differences between an individual right to conscientious objection and an institutional right (eg, of a hospital) to operate according to a particular ethos. He is correct.

Yet the point I briefly alluded to is that there are inherent logical connections between these individual and institutional rights of conscience. Hospitals with an ethos are formed and run by associations of individuals. These individuals are committed to the same basic moral principles, principles constitutive of the hospital’s ethos. For such individuals it is a matter of conscience, and thus integrity, that they are free to associate in this way and that they avoid being compelled to act against their basic moral principles.

So it is erroneous to suggest, as Dr Shorten does, that individual integrity simply does not apply to institutions. Individual integrity is often expressed through associational integrity. That’s why freedom of association is an individual human right, and why freedom of religion necessarily includes a substantial corporate dimension.

Dr Shorten goes on to suggest that it is not exclusionary to deny the institutional rights of Catholic hospitals. But in at least one sense it clearly is: it excludes associations of Catholic medics from making their own unique contribution to healthcare (a contribution that was foundational for the hospital system itself!).

If one rejects the right of medics to associate together according to basic moral principles then one has gone a very significant way towards rejecting the right of medics to act individually according to their conscience. To reject the former is to detract from the credibility of the latter. – Yours, etc,


Lecturer in Theology

and Religious Studies,

Mary Immaculate College,


Sir, – Once again on your letters page we see eminent men debating the ethos and conscience rights of State-funded, religiously owned medical institutions as they pertain to people who require abortions or other reproductive health services (Letters, May 21st).

The discussion having become almost Pythonesque at this stage, it may be time to ask, “Are there any women here?” – Yours, etc,



Co Leitrim.