Poland asks: should a doctor serve God, or patients?

Wed Jul 9, 2014 12:18pm EDT
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By Marcin Goettig and Aneta Pomieczynska

WARSAW (Reuters) - In April this year, a pregnant woman asked Professor Bogdan Chazan, director of Warsaw's Holy Family Hospital, for an abortion because her own physician had diagnosed her unborn child with grave health problems.

Chazan sent the woman a letter saying he could not agree to an abortion in his hospital because of a "conflict of conscience," and instead gave the woman the address of a hospice where, he said, the child could get palliative care once born.

The baby was born at a different hospital with, according to a doctor there, severe head and facial deformities and a brain that was not viable, conditions which the doctor said would result in the child's death within a month or two.

The event has stirred a new battle in a long-running war in staunchly Catholic Poland between conservatives and liberals over abortion, which along with homosexuality, contraception, and in vitro fertilization, is defined by the church as sinful.

On Wednesday, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, the mayor of the Polish capital, said she was firing Chazan from the hospital on the grounds that he did not have the right to refuse the abortion and did not inform the woman about the options for getting a termination.

The case has added resonance because Chazan was one of 3,000 doctors and medical students who this year signed a "Declaration of Faith" affirming the Catholic church's teaching that all human life is sacred from the moment of conception.

"The sole basis for the dignity and freedom of a Catholic physician is a conscience enlightened by the Holy Spirit," said the declaration, which was unveiled at a Catholic shrine in the form of a stone tablet, a nod to the Old Testament's Ten Commandments.

Chazan has become a hero for devout Catholics, who say he is defending traditional values that are being eroded, and a focus of anger from liberals who say doctors' first obligation is to patients, not to the church's teaching.   Continued...