Last year, a seemingly simple and largely bureaucratic move that merged two hospitals set off a flurry of protest, editorials and radio talk show discussion. The Health Services Restructuring Commission, an Ontario panel looking at ways to improve healthcare and save money, ordered the merger of two downtown Toronto hospitals, St. Michael’s and Wellesley. Wellesley specialized in AIDS treatment. It also provided abortions.

In May, after the two hospitals were formally merged, the Wellesley site stopped providing abortions and its AIDS program was combined with that of St. Michael’s. AIDS activists and gay-rights groups claimed they would not be able to get fair treatment from a Catholic institution, and pro-abortion leaders claimed the loss of abortion services would threaten women’s “rights.”

In December, St. Michael’s formally announced it would follow the Restructuring Commission’s directive of setting up an independent, arms-length ambulatory care hospital in the downtown core to serve the needs of the homeless, the under-housed, and those with AIDS. A Toronto Starheadline announcing “St. Mike’s clinic set to offer sex health services” caused some worry among Catholics and other pro-lifers that perhaps St. Michael’s would allow the free distribution of contraceptives and perform abortions and sterilizations at the new clinic, the Sherbourne Hospital Corporation.

Rosemary MacGilchrist, director of communications at St. Michael’s, toldThe Interim the Sherbourne clinic is autonomous and will have its own board. St. Michael’s will have five representatives on the 15-member board. “As you can see,” MacGilchrist noted, “we don’t control the board.”

MacGilchrist stressed that St. Michael’s is acting in accordance with the Restructuring Commission’s directives and that funding for the new Sherbourne facility has been allocated for its own operating budget.

In a letter to the Toronto Star obtained by The Interim, Jeffrey Lozon, president of St. Michael’s hospital, and Daniel Sullivan, chairman of the board of directors of St. Michael’s hospital, say St. Michael’s “will not provide any services which would contradict its mission as a Catholic institution, but presumably the Sherbourne Hospital Corporation could contract with another institution to provide such services, or it could provide these services itself.”

Fr. Alphonse de Valk, editor of Catholic Insight magazine, called it “the best in a bad situation.” By allowing an autonomous administration at another site, Fr. de Valk said, St. Michael’s “will not be forced to surrender their Catholic principles.”

Fr. de Valk added that if health care workers at St. Michael’s began referring patients to the Sherbourne clinic for procedures prohibited by the Catholic health care ethics guide, there would be cause for concern and dedicated Catholics would have to fight against “the usual amorality of modern thinking that infects other hospitals.”