Rev Andrew Clarke, Chairman, Board of Governors, St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital
St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital was founded by the Presbyterian Church in 1966 to “…minister to the souls of men as well as their bodies…” and to “…be truly Christian in its ministry to the sick on the Darling Downs…” It is now a separately incorporated, 137 bed, acute care facility that remains under the oversight of the Church.
The relationship between the sixteen member Hospital Board and the Church had weakened considerably over the years, and a legal crisis forced the General Assembly to dismiss eleven Governors on 20 June 2011. As one of the few continuing Governors I was elected Chairman and had the opportunity immediately to address another crisis that had emerged concurrently – the discovery that the Hospital had a history of abortions of babies with abnormalities (including Down Syndrome) that had never been reported to the Church.
St Andrew’s does not have an obstetrics department; however, these procedures were performed in the first and second trimester, up to twenty weeks, as they were not allowed at the only other local private hospital, which is the Catholic St Vincent’s.
On 29 June the Board introduced an interim policy that has ended all bortions, including those with incompatible with life diagnoses, on the basis that an unborn baby with a terminal condition should be managed according to the same principles of palliative care as any other child.
Furthermore, the following commitment was made:
The Board of Governors also affirms that the Christian mission of this hospital compels us to share the burden of those women distressed by unplanned pregnancy, by the diagnosis of disability in their baby, or by the many challenges of caring for a new baby. This aspect of community care by St Andrew’s Toowoomba Hospital will be developed as a priority and may include financial support for professional pregnancy crisis counselling, practical assistance for unsupported mothers, support for families of disabled children, cooperation with other appropriate community services, and other initiatives as the Board may determine.
It is hoped that doctors in this region will in the future refer patients to St Andrew’s to preserve and nurture life, rather than end it.
These two crises, both the legal one and the abortion issue, have created a furore of historic proportions in this region, and the hostility towards the new Board and its Christian commitment is severe and extreme. Those who oppose us have used countless articles and letters as well as full-page ads in the newspaper, public petitions signed by scores of doctors, a petition to the Assembly, threats of legal action, and an application to the Attorney General in their attempt to remove what they see as a religious takeover by the Church and the Board. The outcome of all this is still uncertain, and your prayers would be deeply appreciated.
Last December, as this storm was appearing on the horizon, a foster baby with a serious disability arrived unexpectedly in our home. In God’s providence, my wife and I have had the privilege, throughout this continuing trial with the hospital, to look each day into the face of a child whom some would have considered unworthy of life. We thank the Lord that her mother carried her to full term, and we hope that many more like her will live, in their birth family’s home or another’s, through the witness of St Andrew’s – to the glory of our heavenly Father.