Public protest only reason nuns won’t own maternity hospital

This piece is from Colette Browne in today’s Irish Independent.

“The decision by the Order of the Sisters of Charity to relinquish control of the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group (SVHG) is a victory for protesters – and an indictment of the Government.

Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday dubbed the decision by the order to cut ties to the hospital group …..”

No mention of the legal challenge against the State mounted by Dick Spicer and his son, Norman.

Lessons from the death of Savita Halappanavar that bear on the decision made by Minister Harris to move the National Maternity Hospital to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus

The HIQUA report ( into Savita Halappanavar’s death from sepsis while in labour at University Hospital Galway should be read by our politicians during the one month abeyance in the planning for the move of the NMH to SVUH campus decreed by Minister Harris.

“The Authority’s investigation also found that there is wide variation in the local clinical and corporate governance arrangements in place across the 19 public maternity hospitals/units nationally. This means that it is impossible at this time to properly assess the performance and quality of the maternity service nationally.

There has been no national review, or national population-based needs assessment, undertaken to date to identify the appropriate allocation of resources including multidisciplinary workforce arrangements, or the models of care required to ensure that all pregnant women have appropriate choices and access to the right level of care and support at the right time in Ireland”.

How do we know that co-location with SVUH is the best tertiary hospital choice when faced with this reality?

HIQUA specifically demanded this policy response from Minister Harris’ Department of Health:

“The Authority has also included a specific recommendation for the Department of Health to develop a ‘Code of Conduct’ for employers. This includes a code for managers that will clearly set out the behaviours and responsibilities expected in relation to achieving an optimum safety culture, governance and performance of an organisation. It should also include the duties and responsibilities in relation to the professional regulation of staff and the referral of healthcare professionals, where appropriate, to their professional regulators”.

How will the chilling religious ethic effect that will be present at SVUH be squared with this?

Some key issues in reproductive medicine, novel therapies and research at the new National Maternity Hospital campus location

The planned move of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus

Some key issues in reproductive medicine, novel therapies and research at the new campus location

  1. Who is in charge of a patient who is transferred from the NMH to SVUH
  2. Is that patient to be treated under the Code of Medical Ethics of SVUH or of the NMH
  3. What are to be the codes of medical ethics of both SVUH and the NMH? Remember that both the SVUH and NMH at present are Roman Catholic hospitals. The term ‘National’ used to describe the NMH is a misnomer given its religious governance.

The structure and composition of their respective boards of governance are set out here:


The RC Archbishop is ex-officio chairman of the Board. Dr. Diarmuid Martin is the present incumbent. Three local parish priests also serve ex-officio.


The governors of SVUH are responsible to the shareholders, the Religious Sisters of Charity, who are the owners of the hospital and its entire campus, including the Elm Park Golf Club, which leases its course from the Order.

We raise here a number of specific concerns to be considered, simply as examples of the ethical complexity of the consequences of the NMH moving to the SVUH campus.

The main question is whether the NMH and SVUH will guarantee that all procedures and therapies legal in Ireland will be available in both NMH and SVUH, if clinically required and following best international practices? It is vitally important that SVUH changes to become like the NMH and not the other way round.

The NMH gradually moved away from strict Catholic ethics under the courageous leadership of Dr. Peter Boylan, and others, but we must be concerned that it might revert to more conservative ethics under the influence of SVUH.

Consider this problem. If a procedure is requested by a patient or next of kin (in an emergency) or a nurse or doctor attending the case, and if it is known that a responsible consultant acting in the best medical interests of the mother might approve the procedure, but the consultant in charge of the patient could not carry out such a procedure because it would be contrary to his or her ethics, will SVUH (and NMH) guarantee that that doctor is required to withdraw from supervising the case?

One can imagine a very sick mother; still carrying her baby, being moved across to SVUH with decisions to be taken about caring for her that might definitely or possibly lead to the death of the baby. The mother’s life may not be immediately at risk but most doctors might decide that the risk of not intervening is too great – this is a matter of judgement.  The ethics of SVUH (like those in Galway with the late Savita Halappanavar) may well delay taking such tough decisions and even prevent them. The fear is that SVUH under its present medical ethics code will tend to err in favour of the baby and rather than the mother.

At the moment we understand that SVUH does not offer or perform “elective sterilisation” – that is sterilisation of a man or a woman, requested just for contraception.  Nor does SVUH officially give advice on modern contraception in general. So at the moment SVUH does not offer all procedures or therapies that are legal in Ireland and considered to be part of normal medical care in hospitals that are not required to abide by Catholic medical ethics.

Consider a case of a woman who has just had a child with a severe genetic disorder. She wants to have a tubal ligation to avoid conceiving a similar child.  She does not need to go to NMH. Will SVUH admit her and perform the procedure? The same question can be posed for the case of a man who carries a defective gene who wishes to avoid conceiving a child.

Now think of IVF, today only performed in the Rotunda and the NMH (apart from private clinics). At present the NMH has the only not-for-profit IVF clinic in the state. IVF is absolutely prohibited by Catholic medical ethics. So it is impossible to imagine that SVUH could approve the setting up of an IVF clinic on its campus. Yet it would be an excellent idea for the NMH, as the largest maternity hospital, to set up its IVF clinic at the new location. There has been silence on this key issue.

Even if the NMH was allowed to set up such a clinic would SVUH allow the use of its laboratories and equipment and health care and technical staff to facilitate an IVF clinic?

The ethical challenges can be very profound.  Consider the use of the laboratories and staff of SVUH to facilitate modern methods for avoiding the birth of severely genetically defective children. The procedure is as follows:

  1. Embryos are conceived in the test tube by allowing the father’s sperm to fertilise the mother’s eggs;
  2. Each embryo is allowed to grow into a few cells;
  3. A few cells are taken from each embryo and tested for the genetic defect;
  4. Embryos without the defect are either implanted or stored for implantation later;
  5. Embryos with defects are allowed to die. So you can see that we should expect that SVUH would block the setting up of an IVF clinic at the NMH.

One other variation would be the use of surrogate-sperm donors in IVF (when the mother’s partner is infertile)

Another would be the use of surrogate-egg nucleus donors in IVF (when the mother’s own nuclear genes carry a genetic defect, or might even be a cause of infertility)

Yet another would be the use of a surrogate-mitochondrial donor in IVF (when mother’s own egg carries defective mitochondrial genes).

The general point is that SVUH should, by its own rules, inhibit and do its best to block the introduction of any ethically unacceptable advances in reproductive medicine at the NMH that might involve SVUH as an associate through its personnel (consultants, nurses, medical laboratory technologists, etc. with positions in both hospitals), labs, paramedical services etc.

In other words the NMH would not be completely free to take advantage of advances in reproductive medicine because of the deadening effect of the SVUH overarching governance of the medical and nursing personnel working on the campus. This is known in law as a ‘chilling’ effect.

Nor would it be easy for the NMH staff to have access to significant research laboratories and their support services provided at SVUH – such laboratories are essential if staff at NMH are to be able to keep up with discoveries abroad, and indeed to contribute to them. It is a weakness of the Irish maternity hospitals that none of them has significant research facilities – the new NMH on the SVUH campus should be able to use the SVUH research labs. Some of the research undertaken at SVUH is in close collaboration with UCD biomedical scientists. But we must assume that there will be religious ethical restrictions on the kind of research going on in these labs?


@Dick_Spicer @NormanSpicer86

@HolyMess1 #HolyMess1

26 May 2017

Why is the National Maternity Hospital being co-located at the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus? Why not at another tertiary teaching hospital location not under overt religious control?

Press release issued 26 May: embargoed until 12:00 h [updated 15:30 h]

A Holy Mess!

Why is the National Maternity Hospital being co-located at the St. Vincent’s University Hospital campus? Why not at another tertiary teaching hospital location not under overt religious control?

Dick Spicer and his son, Norman, believe that the State is acting improperly in funding the move of the National Maternity Hospital (NMH) to the St. Vincent’s University Hospital (SVUH) campus. They have decided to challenge this decision in the High Court.

The plaintiffs                                                                          

Dick and Norman are both angry and dismayed at being put in the situation whereby they have to seek remedy, at law, for the failure of politicians to live up to their obligations under the Constitution. That a pensioner and a young married man (hoping in time to avail of the maternity services of the state) should have to take it upon themselves to undertake this action is a sad commentary on our republic. The proposed siting of the NMH on the SVUH campus is a gross example of political failure. It is almost impossible to believe, given the past history of Church-State dealings and the damage caused to thousands of women that this proposal could emerge from a government which knows the many negative outcome from church control of health care in the area of reproductive rights. Savita Halapanaver’s death should have given the Minister for Health and the Cabinet good pause for thought.

We hope that this action of ours will focus politicians’ minds on the absurdity of the proposed location with a Roman Catholic religious order firmly in control of the entire campus and with healthcare professional staff required to conform to a medical ethics code informed by Canon law precepts. We hope that this action will lead to a genuine re-think of how the co-location is to be organised. What we would like to emerge from today is the clear understanding that there are viable alternatives to the SVUH site, which has the same advantages of co-location and none of the disadvantages, i.e. Tallaght or St. James’ Hospitals, which are both tertiary teaching hospitals with the essential gynaecology specialism. We are asking politicians and public to focus on this simple fact and spare us the burden we have felt obliged to shoulder by virtue of this action.

The State

All taxpayers and citizens, especially those planning a family, should be concerned by the failure of the State to ensure that this huge investment be under direct State control. By gifting the Sisters of Charity with a capital asset of such magnitude they are abdicating responsibility for taxpayers’ funds and failing to protect to the utmost the rights of families in our State to have access to all procedures and therapies in reproductive medicine that are lawful in the State. Not only are they planning to place this asset and the health care staff under religious control and influence, they are boosting enormously the value of the existing site which is under the control of the Order.

The Sisters of Charity

The Sisters of Charity are of course fully entitled to follow the dictates of their religious conscience when controlling a medical facility. It is doubtful if they should avail of state funding to do so however. They are obliged to act according to Canon law in deciding which procedures now and in the future to permit in such an institution. It should be the case however that any State-funded facility be required to permit all procedures and therapies legal in the state to be performed there. This is not the case at present in SVUH and if the Order has a role on the governing board of the proposed NMH they will be obliged by their faith to seek to frustrate and impede any procedures or treatment they disagree with.

The Order requires all its medical and nursing staff to uphold a Roman Catholic medical ethics code informed by Canon law.                                                                                  

The proposed move of the NMH and the logic of Co-Location

By co-locating the NMH with a major tertiary teaching hospital the thinking is that patients of the NMH will have immediate access, if required, to the wide range of facilities and adult medical specialisms available at the SVUH facility and hence patients, especially in a medical emergency, will benefit. Other benefits, like access to clinical laboratory facilities and research laboratories, will also accrue to the NMH. However it is precisely in such emergency situations that the chilling effect of a religious medical ethic may manifest itself.


Thus proposing to place the NMH on the SVUH site is impossible to square with a desire to have an independent State-funded facility in a position to deliver medical care in keeping with the laws of the land into the future. Even if the Order was to be excluded entirely from the board of the NMH, by placing patients in a situation where health and well-being could be at risk in an emergency, due to the particular religious beliefs of the Sisters of Charity who would still be in control of the SVUH, the state is failing in its constitutional obligations to its citizens.

We conclude, by asking any and all TDs who are keeping this government in office to immediately reconsider their position and insist that this shameful abdication of responsibility be abandoned and that the proposed NMH be sited instead at another tertiary teaching hospital with appropriate specialisms and not subject to Canon law interference in health care workers’ contracts.


Dick Spicer: is a married 70 year old pensioner and grandfather. He co-founded the Campaign to Separate Church and State in the 80’s and lodged a legal case against the State over its’ failure to safeguard taxpayers funds over the sale of Carysfort Teacher Training College. His action was instrumental in forcing the Sisters of Mercy to repay two and a quarter million in funds and equipment to the state.  He subsequently founded the Humanist Association and played a significant role in the divorce referendum.

Norman Spicer: is a 30 year old married man, former New York litigation attorney and recent ex-soldier of the Irish Defence Forces. He has served in the Irish army over a period of 12 years during which time he also performed peace keeping duties in central Africa.
He recently discharged (honorably) from the Defence Forces and has at all times had an exemplary conduct record. He is currently a full-time student at University College Dublin on a master of laws program. He resides in Bray, Co. Wicklow.


Dick Spicer: 086-609 5799



@HolyMess1 #HolyMess1

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