|Left to Right: Dr. Robert Walley, Dr. John Lee, and Dr. Bogdan Chazan|
Professor Bogdan Chazan was given an 'Award of Honor' as a person of science and faith at the FIAMC World Congress. MaterCare wishes to congratulate Prof. Chazan on this achievement. During this event, Prof. Chazan delivered an important paper to the congress, telling the story of his dismissal from the Holy Family hospital this year and asking his colleagues to sign the Declaration of Faith for Catholic medical professionals. Read his paper in full below:
A presentation to the FIAMC World Congress, 2014
-Professor Bogdan Chazan MD, PhD
I am a doctor, a specialist in gynaecology and obstetrics. For the last few years I have been working for the Council of Catholic Gynaecologists and Obstetricians along with MaterCare International, founded and still run by Dr. Robert Walley from Canada.
Twelve years ago, I was dismissed from the function as the National Consultant in Poland in the field of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and from the function as head of the Clinical Department Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the Institute of Mother and Child due to my position on the protection of life before birth. The reason being because I did not give an approval for an abortion of a child with a Down syndrome. So-called feminist organisations then submitted a complaint to the public prosecutor’s office claiming I did not respect the “reproductive rights” of women. As a result, I was looking for a job. I found employment as the Director of the Holy Family hospital in Warsaw, combining that position with my academic-didactic work at the university and the Committee on Demographic Studies at the Polish Academy of Sciences. I have directed this hospital for 10 years. Under my supervision, it has been fully modernised and expanded. Next year, it was going to be transformed into The Centre for Family Health. The high level of medical care attracted patients, the number of births tripled to 4,500 births per year, and the perinatal mortality rate decreased by 4 per mil. At the hospital, abortion and/or IVF was not carried out. We were successful at receiving funds from the European Union, and we were granted many prizes and awards.
In early spring this year, Dr. Wanda Półtawska turned to doctors with an appeal to sign the Declaration of Faith. It was announced on the March 5, 2014 – Ash Wednesday. Dr Półtawska prepared an open letter to doctors and medical students on the occasion of the canonization of the Polish Pope John Paul II. She wrote:
“For a long time journalists have been trying to persuade me to give an interview on this occasion, as “I know more”, since I had the chance to cooperate with Father Karol Wojtyła, and then, with Bishop, Cardinal, and finally, the Pope, our great countryman, for so many years. Indeed, I do know more, and I would like to share what He expected from doctors. Cardinal Sapieha entrusted Him with the function of the chaplain of doctors – so He took care of them, met with them, made friends, and was deeply convinced that priests should cooperate with doctors, since they work in the same field – they take care of people.
He recognised the special responsibility of doctors, not only for the health, but also for the fate of the patient, and almost for his or her eternal fate. He suffered, seeing the gradually deeper decline in morality, but He was of the opinion that doctors would be able to help avoid it if they spread the truth on the human sexuality and fertility, on the “theology of the body”. He very often repeated: “Create a strong union of Catholic doctors, to have impact on the public opinion” – it never happened in Poland, nor at the level of Europe – nor the world.
He observed the condition family becoming more and more destroyed and defended the dignity of the human being – he spoke to everybody, everywhere, and he expected assistance from the doctors – but he was disappointed…
I witnessed his reaction to the news when the Polish Parliament passed the law on killing ill unborn children. He got angry – which he did very seldom, hardly ever – he banged his fist on the table and exclaimed: “And where are the paediatricians? Why don’t they defend ill children, why don’t they react?”
–Wanda Półtawska M.D., from an ‘Open Letter to Doctors and Medical Students’
Thus, I thought that perhaps the moment is now, while so many people in Poland look forward his canonization and wonder how to prepare for it. Perhaps now doctors who believe in God, Catholic doctors, might react and acknowledge Him, myself and His teaching, and as a votive offering of gratitude to God and to John Paul II to reveal to the world that they are practicing Catholics, that they faithful.
It is about a simple clear declaration of faith. I propose that all the colleagues and students sign the Declaration of Faith– and the idea is just dictated to me by my conscience, I simply must.
Jesus said: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.” Mt 10:32
I presented the draft of the Declaration of Faith to Polish doctors, members of the Pro Vita Papal Academy and received acceptance from them, as well as from the Head of the Pro Vita Papal Academy, Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula.
At the first audience for Poles, Pope John Paul II said: “Give me a base in Poland, so that I don’t have to be ashamed of you.” Yet, I think he was ashamed many times – and I think that we, Poles and Polish doctors, are in a way indebted to our great countryman – and perhaps this initiative will be a kind of compensation?
I therefore would like to address all my colleagues, doctors and medical students with the appeal that; the belief in God the Creator, and in heaven and hell, is not naivety, but a realism of faith – and this is what people today lack.
I have been in medicine since 1978, and I know for sure that doctors may be of great influence on people and that they will certainly report to God and God alone on how they have fulfilled their vocation. And, as Saint John Paul II wished, they are able to have impact on the public opinion, on the contemporary civilisation – they may indeed defend the Christian values that are threatened.
The text of the Declaration, engraved in stone tablets, was presented by the delegates of Polish doctors in Częstochowa, at the feet of the Black Madonna icon. Dr. Półtawska had for many years cooperated with St. John Paul II, and he took her opinion on bioethical issues into account when writing his Evangelium Vitae. I was one of the first of its signatories. I did not expect that a public confirmation of one’s faith in God, which we declare at every holy mass and daily prayer, may become the basis for accusations and insults. Approx. 3,500 doctors and other medical employees signed the declaration.
The liberal and leftist circles raised a great media agitation. There were attempts to discredit the persons signing the Declaration, among whom were famous doctors, professors, also representing obstetrics and gynaecology. I was mostly attacked by arguments that, for example, declaring the sacredness of the human body, I would no longer perform caesarean sections at the Holy Family hospital. The Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Health suggested in the media that doctors who have signed the Declaration would now “treat their patients with holy water”, and called for using “the encyclical at home but the encyclopedia at work”.
Following the June 11 plenary meeting of the Conference of the Polish Episcopate, a statement was issued. The bishops said: “The aggression has been directed against the doctors who were signatories of the Declaration of Faith is not only incomprehensible, it is also inacceptable. It contradicts the constitutional principle of freedom pf conscience and faith”.
In April this year, I refused to carry out an abortion at the Holy Family Hospital. The mother who demanded it had experienced obstetric failures in the past; she was childless. The pregnancy was a result of IVF. The child was diagnosed with developmental defects of the skull. Instead of abortion, I offered care to the mother during pregnancy and birth at our hospital as well as psychological assistance at a perinatal hospice, but she did not give up her abortion plans. According to the Polish legal regulations on the conscience clause, a doctor or midwife who refuses to perform a medical procedure that is against his or her beliefs is required to refer the patient to another doctor, midwife or nurse who would perform the procedure. I could not fulfill this condition, as it would mean that I would indirectly participate in carrying out the abortion, which for moral reasons I could not consider. In addition to that, I did not know the names and addresses of doctors in institutions performing abortions. The freedom of conscience is, thus, not adequately respected in Poland. The legal regulation is deficiently constructed.
The birth of the child took place at another hospital by caesarean section. The child was born with more severe defects of the head than had been expected, described in detail publicly by my colleague, a professor of gynaecology, as a “monster” and died after about two weeks.
A few weeks after my abortion refusal, the patient filed a complaint against me to the Town Hall in Warsaw. That is, the founding institution of the Holy Family Hospital. Five different types of control were imposed simultaneously on the hospital from different institutions, including the Mayor of Warsaw’s office, the office of the Commissioner for Patients’ Rights, the Screener for Professional Liability of the Polish Chamber of Physicians, and the public prosecutor’s office. Such number of simultaneously controlling bodies is against the law. The National Health Fund fined the hospital approximately 30,000 dollars. The Medical Chambers threaten me with withdrawing my license to exercise my profession. The patient demands approximately 300,000 dollars from the hospital to compensate for her suffering and threaten a civil lawsuit. The investigation of my case by the public prosecutor’s office is in progress.
The case was broadly covered by the media and became a leading issue for a certain time. I was ruthlessly attacked by leftist and liberal politicians. In the media appeared articles with false information and nasty comments. In response to that, the conservative media, were defending me.
Statements stressing the necessity to protect human life were published by the Episcopate and independently by many bishops. Cardinal Gerhard Muller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith voiced his support for me. He said, “The developing theories that are being produced by individuals and the State claiming that the law is more important than ethics and morals, and that it is the source of proper ethics, and that the State can compel a doctor – contrary to his or her conscience - to kill an unborn child or be threatened to be thrown out of work, are both criminal and monstrous.” People who supported me, patients and their families, organised a demonstration of support in front of the Hospital, with a hundreds participants, and a Club of Friends of the Hospital was founded.
Amid such social atmosphere and hot discussion, the Mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, commonly regarded as a Catholic, the Vice-President of the ruling party, “Platforma Obywatelska” (The Civil Platform), dismissed me from my office. She did not have the courage to hand me the document of dismissal, nor did she find the time to talk about or listen to any explanations. She imposed the most severe “penalty” possible. Later in the media, she explained that she shared my system of values, but she had to fulfill the requirements of the law.
The next day after my dismissal, a woman came to the Hospital, a pregnant mother with a referral to perform an abortion due to the child’s illness. She was accompanied by television cameras. At the hospital, where for eight years abortion had not been carried out, was an atmosphere of threats, fear and crying. The midwives were told by a new director that it is a “discipline requirement”, “the woman’s decision”, and “the duty of the employee”. At the hospital chapel and at other churches in Warsaw a continuous adoration of the Holy Sacrament was celebrated. The abortion did take place.
After my dismissal from work, the emotions became even more intense. I was accused of disobeying the law, hating women (as exemplified by the mother whose suffering, according to some people, I had caused), additionally to the unnecessary suffering of the ill child after birth. The abortion would have, according to them, shortened this suffering. A threat to my personal safety was also made.
Simultaneously, many people expressed their support for my decision on the abortion refusal and their sympathies for my situation after I was dismissed. I received tens of thousands letters and postcards, over 200 thousand declarations of support on-line from Poland and abroad. A belief was expressed that after a certain time, or even very soon after spending a few weeks with the ill child before his death, the mother would be happy that she did not kill the child, as she had previously been planning, but that she let the child die in peace, supervised by the medical staff of the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit).
Archbishop Henryk Hoser of Warsaw Praga Dioceses, a medical doctor, issued a statement calling the penalties “ethically unacceptable, unjustified, out of proportion, unjust and doubtfully legal”. Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Metropolitan Warsaw said, that the decision to fire me is “a dangerous precedent, violating the rights of all people, not only Catholics”.
It does happen in medicine that ethics and morality, the rules of the Decalogue and the Natural Law, that is, the result of a millennia-long process of social construction, and the statute law, that is, the legislation, do not follow the same path. In situations of conflict between the law, the conscience and ethics, one should stand on the side of ethical rules. The world is witnessing how evil is gradually being deprived of the obvious signs of evil. It has been culturally tamed and is deceiving. Another mother came to the hospital demanding an abortion the next day after my dismissal.
These events were aimed at eliminating me, and using me as an example to other doctors, nurses and midwives, showing what they risk if they apply the principles of the natural law on such a sensitive and socially important issue, which is so significant in bioethics and the practice of reproductive medicine. If it is so easy to dismiss a professor, what will keep them from doing the same with any insubordinate doctor or midwife? It is nothing but terrorism.
In one city of Poland an abortion has recently been carried out by a caesarean section, in fear that performing this procedure in a “too advanced” pregnancy may lead to professional or criminal liability. The baby, nearly mature enough to survive outside of maternal womb, was killed, and the mother was exposed to the risk related to the procedure.
The Prime Minister of the Polish government, Donald Tusk, considered it appropriate to express himself on my case. I did not feel distinguished by that, but this expresses the importance attached to the issue of abortion in our country by the present liberal rulers. However, they do not pay attention to the Resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe No 1763 from the year 2010, which recommends not to force doctors or hospitals to carry out abortions.
The problems of the natural law, abortion, freedom of conscience are still under discussion in Poland. The number of births at the Holy Family Hospital is going down quickly. The patients do not accept my dismissal. They protest at the entrance of the Mayor of Warsaw’s office every two weeks. But my personal and professional future are under the threat.
The Criminal Court in Warsaw decided to brief me on the secrecy on the issues related to the patient during a planned hearing at the public prosecutor office. My case is in the course of investigation at the office of Professional Liability. I may lose the physician’s licence.
In Warsaw on October 7th and 8th, 2014 the 366th plenary meeting of the Polish Bishops Conference took place. The bishops stated, “In the context of the public debate on the conscience clause, the bishops express their concern about the appropriate moral formation of the human being. A righteous conscience does not create moral norms, but carries out a rational judgment of the person’s action, according to the constant ethical rules and the norms of the state law that are in line with them. A person of faith discovers in his or her conscience the voice of God, calling him or her to righteous actions. The bishops express their gratitude to those persons who call for the full respect for the freedom of conscience, which is also guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Poland. They also thank all those who give a testimony of faithfulness to their conscience, the truth and the good in the society and public life, and who for this reason frequently experience a stigmatization by the media and the society”.
It is comforting and reassuring that the intense attack against me awakened the consciences, as well as feelings and emotions that had been asleep, or rather desensitised. I think that people have understood how important it is to adjust the statutory law to the natural law, especially in issues concerning abortion. The freedom of conscience is a human right, and the conscience clause may not limit this right in an unjustified way. As of now, the doctor is to fulfill any request of the patient, even those requests not justifiable by the patient’s health needs.
Meanwhile, it must be stated firmly that a doctor is not to be hired for any job. The doctor is in the service of life, not death. To carry out abortions, perhaps other specialists should be hired, perhaps specially educated medical executioners – thanatologists. Then doctors might be left in peace. We should also remember the words of St. John Paul II: “A nation that kills its own children is a nation without future.” A social awareness of these issues is evidently being born, and we should thank God for that.
Therefore, apart from the sadness that is obvious in the case of losing my hospital, or the stress dominated by a sense of satisfaction and happiness. Some people say that I have been entrusted a role as witness to the civilisation of life. The immensity of social reactions, the vivid discussions in the press, radio and television on the essence of humanity, parenthood, the vocation of the human being, dignity of any human life, and the essence of abortion are the blessed results of this whole story. The enormous friendship that outweighs the hate towards me personally as a sort of a sign, gives a joy that balances the suffering. I am glad that it is followed by evangelisation, a greater sensitivity to the Word of God and fulfilling the Commandments.
I have experienced in my life the immensity of Divine Mercy, which I often publicly give thanks for with the hope that my fellow colleagues and gynaecologists will awake and also take a different, a better, path through the worldly life.