This article appears in the May 2011 Edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly


Peter Doherty

The modern period of the Guild probably reached its apogee during the mastership of Jonathan Gould. From his rooms in Devonshire Place the Masters and Officers of the London branches, and any others who were around, used to meet with current and potential parliamentarians and interested clergy to discuss current bio-ethical issues.

As a connoisseur of claret he was enabled to stimulate the discussions.

It was not uncommon when particular problems were being publically aired to have Bishop Harvey, then an auxiliary Bishop of Westminster, Mgr. Leonard then the Cardinal's secretary, and Father Mahony SJ, former Principal of Heythrop College in attendance. Jonathan also seemed to have a wealth of available barrsiters and academics ready to present their views. One result was that the Guild was invited to send a representative to take part in the meetings of the Hierarchies of England and Wales and Scotland in the preparation of a joint statement condemning the evil of abortion.

The decision during the time of Cardinal Heenan to establish the Linacre Centre as the leading Catholic bio-ethical foundation without consulting the Guild was always a festering affront with him. In those days the Guild was only allowed two members to

attend the meetings and they did not have votes. Fortunately. Over the years the two became close associates and this was greatly strengthened when the office of the guild was moved to the Hospital of St. John and St. Elizabeth.

The Standing Parliamentary Committee was established to discuss and act on current parliamentary issues. Members were encouraged to contact MP's, letters were delivered to individual members of parliament and ultimately post men were appointed in each party to deliver them to Catholic members. During David Alton's Abortion Bill members were given individual Ministers to contact. I remember spending nearly half an hour with the Minister of Trade and on leaving found a rather irritable queue waiting outside. The other major Committee founded about this time was the Joint Ethico-Medical Committee. It is composed of members drawn from two parent bodies. The Catholic Union is an organisation of the Catholic laity which is not affiliated to the Hierarchy but which represents the Catholic viewpoint , where relevant, in Parliamentary and legislative matters. The Guild represents Catholic medical practitioners in the United Kingdom. Its objective is to review government legislation and present the findings to the relevant department. Over the years it has produced many excellent papers and in many instances has been successful in restraing certain procedures. It is a regular contributor to government enquiries and White Papers. The members from the Union are largely retired civil servants or lawyers who add 'Statecraft' to the the doctor's contributions. The Chairman has always come from the Guild despite many pleas to the union for one of their members.

Michael Straiton and I in 1960 formed the idea that the Guild should organise and finance research into selected medical issues with potential bio-ethical effects. We founded a fund to which the Guild was invited to contribute, and with three able Trustees, and advice from certain members, it raised well over £20,000. An exciting project to establish the potential of folic acid in the prevention of spina bifida fell into difficulties when its director in Guy's Hospital proclaimed in a television programme her support for abortion. Another project, supported by eminent pro-Life activists, involved a method of transferring the embryo from an obstructed Fallopian Tube to the uterus. Unfortunately the Obstetrician from Liverpool who had volunteered to do it while working in Abu Dhabi, was found guilty of malpractice and removed from the profession. Others were helped with smaller grants. It has remained idle for some years, but recently the amount remaining of £13,000 has been transferred to the CMA.

In the world beyond Committees, the branches of the Guild competed with each other at staging the annual Symposium and AGM. These were generally robust affairs with banquets, wives, local bishops, MP's and mayors being invited. Pharmaceutical companies were anxious to exhibit in the area set aside for their stands. Their support helped to subsidise the event. They were happy occasions held all over the country at which lasting friendships were made. For many years

Father Terry Phipps, our chaplain, with his wonderful voice and extensive collection of jokes made for a riotous and extended evening..

We once went up to Scotland, as many Scottish doctors are members. Cardinal Winning was always in favour of a separate Scottish Guild as he feared there was too great an emphasis on revelry at meetings south of the border. A Scottish Group having strong associations with the Guild was formed and offered a section in the CMQ for its publications but nothing has ever matured.

It is true that after Council meetings at the various menus it was customary to retire to the Bar. Plans were made there for future meetings and local problems discussed.

I well remember John Gallagher and myself discussing a talk we had recently attended by Professor Jerome Lejeune when John suddenly said " Why not invite him to our future Symposium in Leeds " The professor accepted and it turned out to be an outstanding success and the beginning of a strong relationship with him. As Kate Fox in her remarkable book 'Watching the English' describes how after a survey which took her to all parts of the UK it evident that the pub, with its bar, is the most democratic area in the UK.

I remember the occasion when we were invited to presentation of a Papal award to Jonathan at Westminster House. Cardinal Basil took over the bar and admitted he did not know the correct proportions of a Gin and Tonic. His version was rather low on Tonic. After a while he bade us all goodbye as he had a further reception to attend and said we were quite welcome to stay for breakfast.

The Guild produced some remarkable characters and friendships and it did become a recognised body both in the Church and the broad area of academia and politics. The following papers from John Kelly and Tony Cole illustrate further the efforts of its members. The Catholic Medical Association has solid roots on which to build its future.