“Medical Ethics” at the Mater Hospital
In the context of the ongoing controversy about the new National Maternity Hospital being given to a religious order, it is instructive to look at what it means for State-funded public services to be run by private faith-based organisations. The Mater Hospital is run by the Sisters of Mercy and Atheist Ireland has acquired some documentation using the Freedom of Information Act, describing how their Ethics Committee has been managed.
The web site of the Mater Hospital states that:
“The Mater Hospital is committed to carrying out pioneering research to find treatments and cures for some of the most complex illnesses, for the benefit of our own patients and patients worldwide. All medical research we carry out must obey ethical standards that respect people. To ensure this, the hospital’s research ethics committee must approve every research study or clinical trial before it can begin.”
However, the State funding for the work carried out by the Ethics Committee, was not only invested in research evaluation. A building near the hospital was also refurbished in order to provide training for staff in “Mission Effectiveness” and a Board position was created for a “Director of Mission Effectiveness”. The current Mission Statement for the Mater Hospital is as follows:
“By caring for the sick in the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital
We participate in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ;
We honour the spirit of Catherine McAuley and the Sisters of Mercy;
We pledge ourselves to respect the dignity of human life;
To care for the sick with compassion and professionalism;
Too promote excellence and equity, quality and accountability.”
It is not surprising then that the Mission Effectiveness Program offered to all staff from these refurbished premises, was explicitly Roman Catholic. For example, the start of the program includes the statement that “We accept the social teaching of the Church …”. It is a strange ethics committee indeed that first begins with accepting Roman Catholic teachings, before considering any objective medical or ethical issues. Small wonder then that cancer drug trials at the Mater Hospital can be cancelled, since the Catholic Church appears to believe that it is better for a woman to die from cancer than to take a contraceptive pill. This is the kind of “medical ethics” that result when the Ethics Committee accepts the social teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
Some more extracts from the Mission Effectiveness Program are provided in the image below, describing how these religious considerations were intended to be reflected in the work of the medical staff. That is, the religious mission of the hospital is not just academic or philosophical. Where the “spiritual works” of medical staff are required to “challenge wrongs”, it is not quite clear which wrongs that the Sisters of Mercy have in mind. What is more clear is that the scriptural quote that that is provided is not accurate.
In fact, Mark 16:16 states the following:
“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned.”
The theme of reflecting the religious ethos of the hospital within the daily work of the medical staff, is consistent throughout the Mission Effectiveness Program. The content in the program relating to “Values” further emphasised how the religious views of one particular denomination were to inform the medial work of the public hospital.
Medical ethics is a very important function within any teaching hospital and it is proper correct that it should be funded by the State. However, this function should be informed by the best available evidence and should not be limited only to those positions that are consistent with “the social teaching of the Church”. Atheist Ireland will continue to campaign for secular public health services, which are free from religious control.