Medical ethics in Irish hospitals

Sir, – Dr Peter Boylan has once again warned that the Sisters of Charity through either St Vincent's Healthcare Group (SVHG) or a new charitable company, St Vincent's Holdings, are doing everything possible to gain ownership and control of the new National Maternity Hospital ("Fresh thinking on National Maternity Hospital impasse vital", Opinion & Analysis, May 5th).

If they succeed the implication is that the new hospital, as part of St Vincent’s, will be required to adhere to Catholic medical ethics.

This is not a unique case. We should remember that quite a number of hospitals which are controlled by Catholic organisations require staff to adhere to Catholic medical ethics when treating patients. This has meant that many patients, mostly women, have not received medical care or advice that would be considered the most appropriate in leading non-Catholic hospitals in Ireland and worldwide. Even hospitals outside the formal control of Catholic organisations have found it difficult to avoid objections of Catholic staff to the provision of medical care not approved by the church.

It is long overdue for the Oireachtas to legislate to the effect that publicly funded hospitals must offer and provide all medical treatments within their medical competence that are permitted by law. It should be illegal for hospitals such as St Vincent’s, the Mater, Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children and the new National Maternity Hospital not to consider or provide treatments on the grounds that they are forbidden by the Catholic Church. A Bill to this effect, which should be easy to draft, should also apply to private hospitals and clinics that treat publicly funded patients. – Yours, etc,





Honorary President,

The Humanist Association

of Ireland,

Dún Laoghaire,

Co Dublin.