Dublin, Ireland, May 30, 2017 / 04:07 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- Ireland's Sisters of Charity will end their management of three Dublin hospitals, the sisters have announced, saying they will hand over control to a group that will not follow Catholic medical ethics.

“Although the Sisters of Charity no longer have any direct involvement in the provision of healthcare services we remain dedicated to preserving the legacy of Mary Aikenhead, whose mission in life was to heal and care for the sick and poor,” Sister Mary Christian, Congregational Leader of the Religious Sisters of Charity, said Monday. “We believe that the future continued success of St. Vincent's Healthcare Group can best be ensured by our transferring ownership of the group to a newly formed company with charitable status to be called 'St. Vincent's.' The Religious Sisters of Charity will have no involvement in this new company.”

The decision to transfer control of the three Dublin hospitals had been under consideration for more than two years, James Menton, chairman of the healthcare group, told the Irish state broadcaster RTÉ. Menton said the developments “reflect the wonderful legacy to Irish healthcare of the Sisters of Charity.” “The sisters have always held the highest ambitions for the provision of world class healthcare services in Ireland and have successfully achieved and sustained this,” he said. “They also see the need for the proposed development of the new National Maternity Hospital integrated within the Elm Park campus and want to do everything possible to ensure this vital facility for mothers and babies is developed as quickly as possible.”

The health care group's origins date back to 1834, when Mary Aikenhead, the founder of the Religious Sisters of Charity, established St. Vincent's Hospital. Until this year, the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group included three hospitals. Two sisters who were on the board of the healthcare group's board will resign and the congregation will give up the right to appoint board directors.

The long-considered move to give up the three hospitals follows recent controversy over a reported proposal that the sisters be given ownership of a $335 million taxpayer-funded National Maternity Hospital because the congregation owned the land on which it would be built, the campus of St. Vincent's University Hospital. The controversy prompted the Irish Minister for Health Simon Harris to say in April that there must be “no question of religious interference” in the new hospital.

The National Maternity Hospital's board had said the new facility would be run independently and would provide procedures like sterilization, in-vitro fertilization, and some abortions. The sisters have now said they will not own or help manage the new hospital. The controversy over the new hospital often included claims from critics that Catholic ethics were not good medical practice.

The sisters' statement appeared to echo these claims, saying the governing documents of the new health care group so that the Religious Sisters of Charity Health Service Philosophy and Ethical Code would no longer be authoritative. Rather, it will be “amended and replaced to reflect compliance with national and international best practice guidelines on medical ethics and the laws of the Republic of Ireland,” the statement said.

Some observers predicted further ethical problems if Ireland were to instate permissive abortion laws, a possible outcome of current heavy lobbying from pro-abortion advocates. Fiona Crowley, Amnesty International's research and legal manager, responded to the hospital decision. She said her organization had been concerned “at the proposed involvement in women's health services of a religious congregation whose ethos is inherently antithetical to women's sexual and reproductive rights.”

Crowley said the group hopes that the government will ensure the new group and the new facility “will be free of any religious ideology prejudicial to women’s health.” Crowley linked the move to the push to overturn the Republic of Ireland's strongly pro-life Eighth Amendment.  

Amnesty's Irish affiliate is a part of that effort, in part with funding by international groups like the Open Society Foundations. The foundations see Ireland as a possible model to advance permissive abortion laws in Catholic countries. The Sisters of Charity have committed to paying millions in financial redress to compensate abuse victims who lived the residential institutions they and 18 other religious congregations managed on behalf of the government in previous decades.