Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor has joined a Scottish cardinal and a Conservative Catholic peer in condemning the BMA's abortion proposal
BY MARK GREAVES
CARDINAL Cormac MurphyO'Connor has urged Catholic doctors to "fight for the primacy of their conscience" in the face of an aggressively secular society.
The Cardinal made the plea just days before the British Medical Association was to debate whether doctors should be stripped of their right to refuse to arrange abortions.
He said he believed that the proposal would be opposed by the General Medical Council and so even if it was approved by the BMA would not become legally binding.
The motion, introduced by the Oxford division of the BMA, was to he discussed at the BMA annual general meeting yesterday. It has already been condemned by Archbishop Peter Smith of Cardiff and Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who said he was "horrified" that doctors could be forced to act against their conscience.
Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said it was a sign of the growing power of secularism in determining what was acceptable and what was not.
He said: "I'm very worried that we are getting a politically correct religion in this country which is cultivating secular norms of what is acceptable and right which seem to me to be very, very wrong. In the last 15 or so years we have rapidly become a deeply secular society, particularly in Parliament. We have to think. 'how do we continue to engage constructively with this society?"
The Cardinal made his comments at a Catholic health care conference at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, organised by the bishops' conference.
Baroness Cumberlege, a Catholic peer and former Junior Health Minister, also spoke at the conference and described the BMA proposal as "disgraceful". She said it was "quite extraordinary" to seek to deny doctors their integrity, professionalism and personal belief by compelling them to arrange abortions.
Doctors' right of conscientious objection is ensluined in Section 4 of the 1967 Abortion Act. At present GMC guidance states that a doctor must explain a conscientious objection to a patient and "tell them they have the right to see another doctor". However, they are not obliged to refer women specifically to a named doctor or organisation in the knowledge that they will arrange an abortion.
At the healthcare conference last week Cardinal MurphyO'Connor delivered a talk entitled "Spiritual Challenges in Healthcare Today" in which he expressed concern about how compassion was being neglected in the NHS.
He argued that external targets and making doctors tick boxes was not the best way to nurture compassion.
Instead the NHS needs to have "an honest and searching discussion about the under lying culture, values and ethos that the service is actually following". It must have a vision that recognises "the human person in their wholeness" rather than one that focuses only on technical competence, the Cardinal said.
He added: "I strongly believe that at this juncture in its history, the explicit recog nition of the faith commitment of many of those who work in the NHS could help in promoting the necessary cultural change at all levels in the NHS."
After his speech the Cardinal spoke candidly about the perception that the Church in England and Wales had "lost all its battles" in politics.
He argued that even if the Church had lost the recent vote in Parliament it had still opened up important areas of debate. "[People say] the Catholic Church has lost all its battles. The poor Catholic Church has lost its battle on the adoption agencies, embryo research and abortion. And we lack punch power — like Muhammad Ali, [we should] really knock them out.
"There's no question of that. Our interventions didn't result in victory but they enabled many people to think again, especially on the primacy of the family. I received so many letters from people who were distressed at the number of abortions, and they weren't just Catholic. We raised the questions — and I think a considerable number of people are glad we raised them. We lost the battle in Parliament but these questions have been raised and it's not the end of the story."