Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Practicing Medicine with Integrity in a Hostile Culture

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

Practicing Medicine with Integrity in a Hostile Culture

Article excerpt

In the middle of last year, Poland witnessed a case related to obstetrics care, abortion and physicians' conscience clause. The case illustrates a struggle between the civilization of life and the civilization of death. I was involved in it and would like to present the background and the course of those events, as well as provide a wider commentary and conclusions.

I am a doctor, a specialist in gynecology and obstetrics. Twelve years ago, I was dismissed from the position of National Consultant in the Field of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Poland and from the position of head of the clinical department of obstetrics and gynecology at the Institute of Mother and Child for defending the life of an unborn child. As National Consultant, 1 expressed the opinion that Down's syndrome does not meet the criteria of a severe disease threatening the fetus's life, which would justify performing an abortion. Feminist organizations filed a complaint with the Public Prosecutor's Office, accusing me of disrespecting women's "reproductive rights." After the hearing, the Public Prosecutor's Office dismissed the case, but I was removed from clinical practice.

I found employment as an administrator, director of the municipal specialist Holy Family Hospital in Warsaw, which I combined with my work in the hospital as a consultant and with academic work at the university. I employed new, well-educated and experienced personnel; the hospital was completely modernized and expanded. In a year's time, it was going to be transformed into a Family Health Center. The high standard of medical care in the hospital attracted patients. The number of deliveries tripled, to 4,500 per year, and the perinatal mortality rate lowered to 4 per mille. In the hospital we did not perform abortions or in vitro fertilization (IVF), which the patients accepted. We were successful at obtaining funds from the European Union, as well as received prizes and awards.

In early spring last year Dr. Wanda Póltawska addressed physicians with an appeal to sign a "Declaration of Faith." The Declaration, the text of which was engraved on stone tablets, was placed by a delegation of Polish doctors at the feet of the icon of the Black Madonna of Czçstochowa. For many years, Dr. Póltawska had cooperated with St. John Paul II; the Pope took her opinion into consideration when writing his encyclical "Evangelium Vitae." When signing that Declaration as one of more than 3,500 physicians, midwives, and medical students, I did not expect that it would raise any considerable confusion.

However, attempts were made in the media to discredit the Declaration signatories. Because of what happened in the past, it was me who was attacked most often. It was argued, for example, that having declared respect for the sanctity of the human body, I will no longer perform Caesarean sections. The Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Health suggested that doctors who signed the Declaration will now treat the sick with holy water and called for using the encyclical at home, but rather an encyclopedia at work. The liberal media would like to see me, as a "Catholic-Taliban," in Afghanistan. Left-wing members of Parliament postulated that the doctors who signed the Declaration of Faith not be allowed to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. A representative of the Boards of Physicians suggested that medical students who signed the Declaration of Faith should be dismissed from medical universities. These are examples of how severely and ruthlessly those who want to be faithful to natural law and their conscience are now treated in my country. The accusation that declaring ones faith can pose a risk to a patient's life or health is absurd. In fact, the opposite is true: a believing doctor who observes the commandment of love for their neighbor serves their patients well.

In April last year I refused in writing to perform an abortion at the Holy Family Hospital. The mother had experienced many obstetric failures in the past. …

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