Poland: Medical Society Bars Doctors from Performing Legal Abortions

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Date: 
1 May 1992

A new Physician's Code of Ethics, adopted in December 1991 by the Polish Medical Society, prohibits doctors from performing abortions, even though abortion has been legal in Poland since 1956. A bill to prohibit abortion was debated by the national legislature, the Sejm, during its last session and rejected. Several bills to restrict and prohibit abortion have been introduced in this session and are currently under debate in the Sejm.

The new Physician's Code of Ethics contains a new version of the Hippocratic oath which commits doctors to "human life and health from the moment of conception" and prohibits abortion in all cases except those of pregnancy resulting from a felony and endangerment of the mother's life or health. For performing an abortion in violation of the Code of Ethics, a doctor can have his or her license to practice medicine revoked by the Polish Medical Society.

The Physician's Code of Ethics goes into effect on May 3, 1992 and will allow for immediate action against physicians. Because abortion is legal in Poland, a doctor could theoretically appeal a decision of the Polish Medical Society to the Supreme Court. However, the legal advisor to the Polish Medical Society, Witold Preiss, stated at a press conference that "the code itself, as a decision of the physician's conference, cannot be legally questioned by anyone."

Two years ago, the First National Conference of Physicians appointed a committee to prepare a code of ethics for Polish doctors. The resulting Physician's Code of Ethics was approved last year by the Second National Conference of Doctors, but even among doctors there does not appear to be support for the restrictions it contains on performing abortions. According to a recent poll conducted in Gorzow district, 70% of doctors reportedly oppose these restrictions. Tadeusz Chrusciel, Chair of the Polish Medical Society, has voiced the need for Polish doctors to be "healers not only of the body but also of the soul." Dr. Chrusciel has expressed the desire to curb what he perceives to be an excess of sexual freedom in Poland.

What You Can Do: 

Please help Polish women protect their access to abortion, by alerting the media to this unusual situation in Poland, by contacting the Polish Medical Society directly, and by enlisting physicians and medical associations to contact the Polish Medical Society and express opposition to the provisions of the new Code of Ethics which would impose sanctions on physicians for performing health services in accordance with Polish law. Letters, telegrams and telephone calls should be directed to:

Dr. Tadeusz Chrusciel, President
Polish Medical Society
Naczelna Izba Lekarska
ul. Grojecka 65a
02-094 Warsaw, Poland
Tel: 48-22-22-15-73, 48-22-22-21-54
Fax: 48-26-58-17-01