Earlier this month, Dr. Bogdan Chazan, a renowned pro-life doctor in Poland and head of the gynecology and obstetrics department at Holy Family Hospital, was sacked and fined after he refused to participate in abortion. He spoke with LifeSiteNews about his ordeal. (See bottom for background on his case.)
Dr. Chazan, you were lynched by the media, your hospital was fined, and you were dismissed as hospital director. Does it often happen that doctors in Poland are punished as severely as you were?
Not very often. I’d even say very rarely. Generally, with people like me, things are dealt with in a quiet way. For example, more often, big corporations do not hire gynecologists who do not prescribe birth control. Nobody openly talks about the use of the “conscientious objection.” Things are hushed up, with no paper trail.
“Children conceived in-vitro do have a greater risk of birth defects. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love those children. They deserve our love. They are loved by God.”
For instance, I know about a case where a well-known pro-life woman was denied a post-doctoral track. Recently, one of the candidates for director of the gynecology department at the Medical University was asked if he had signed the Declaration of Faith/Conscience (Editor's note: This was an open letter signed by thousands of doctors in Poland; among other things, it voiced opposition to abortion.). He admitted he had, and did not get the job. Perhaps, there were other circumstances, too, but I don’t know.
Your hospital got fined because you allegedly misused the conscience clause by not referring the patient to an abortionist. Can a Polish doctor really refuse to have anything to do with an abortion?
Quite simply, no, he cannot. He especially can’t refuse in an ostentatious way, like I did.
I’m talking about a situation when a doctor in a clear and firm way refuses to refer a patient to another doctor or another facility to get an abortion. More often, doctors simply use the conscience clause and refuse to perform an abortion. You have to remember that in Poland, statistically speaking, in every gynecological ward “only” two abortions are performed per year. Most doctors—a significant majority of gynecologists—do not perform abortions in hospitals where they work, nor in their private practices. Most doctors do not want to do it for moral reasons.
Why the $23,000 fine on the hospital?
The fine was punitive. Maybe a way to avoid these problems in the future would be to sign contracts with the governmental National Health Fund (NHF) that specifically exclude abortion procedures. But would the NHF allow this? My view is that as long as we have the current abortion law allowing eugenic abortions, only the medical facilities that perform prenatal diagnostics “should” perform abortions. Obviously, though, I am against abortions anywhere and for whatever reason.
You got fired as a result of an inspection performed by the city of Warsaw. Can you comment on this decision?
The punishment was painful and unjust. During my term as director, the hospital developed, expanded, and modernized, and doctor-patient relations improved. The hospital became popular throughout Warsaw.
However, I should clarify that technically I have not been fired yet. The mayor of Warsaw only announced my dismissal.
According to the city of Warsaw report, the patient asked for an abortion after the 24th week of pregnancy had elapsed. You could have refused her simply by saying that after this time abortion was no longer legal. Instead, you objected on the basis of your conscience. Why did you choose to do so?
I have to clarify that it is not accurate to say that abortion after the 24th week is illegal in Poland. There is no regulation that specifies the number of weeks after which performing an abortion would not be allowed. It all depends on the doctor’s discretion.
When—as requested by the patient—I put in writing my refusal based on conscientious objection, I wrote honestly why I didn’t agree to an abortion in my hospital. I also said on television that I could not imagine abortions in the Holy Family Hospital unless we changed its name to the Felix Dzerzhinsky Hospital, after the infamous murderer from the NKVD (Editor's note: Dzerzhinsky was born in Poland. NKVD is the Soviet secret and bloody police and forerunner to the KGB.).
According to the same report, two other hospitals refused this woman an abortion. One refused earlier than yours. Do you know if those facilities will be investigated by the government?
Probably they will be. We would like to know what happened there. However, in those hospitals nobody put their refusal in writing. Everything was said during oral conversation. There is no sign of refusal in the patient’s medical documentation.
The baby you refused to abort, who had been conceived in vitro, was sick and deformed…
During an ultrasound and MRI testing performed in the Institute of Mother and Child (not in my hospital), the baby’s problems did not appear so serious. It seemed that an operation would be possible. Nonetheless, according to Professor Dębski, the baby’s birth revealed that his situation was worse, and that in fact his condition was lethal.
This doctor, Dr. Romuald Dębski of Bielański Hospital, described the baby’s face on TV in excruciating details. The woman’s lawyer said the baby shouldn’t have been born. How do you comment on this type of discrimination of in-vitro babies?
It is very sad that my colleague was cruel to this child, violating his dignity and humanity. We shouldn’t treat people based on their looks. In the future, Dr. Dębski and I won’t look too good, either, and might even look terrible. I would not want people to turn away from me. “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” It is a good rule.
There are many studies showing that children conceived in-vitro have a greater risk of birth defects….
Yes, it is true, and is worth repeating, that children conceived in-vitro do have a greater risk of birth defects. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t love those children. They deserve our love. They are loved by God.
By the way, I am afraid that this type of “spectacle” that Dr. Dębski performed on TV could increase women’s fear of having children. I am also afraid that it raises the level of perfectionism that some potential mothers already seek.
What are your plans for the future?
Perhaps I’ll stay on as director of the Holy Family Hospital. Perhaps the mayor of Warsaw will change her decision. If not, I can still work at the University, in the Government Population Commission (Rządowa Rada Ludnościowa), the Committee on Demographical Science, or at MaterCare International… I also can keep on doing my charity work in Isiolo, Kenya. That is, provided I have time, and God gives me health and strength….
A 38-year old woman with four miscarriages became pregnant for the fifth time in the Novum Fertility Clinic in Warsaw. Because fertility clinics in Poland rarely provide pregnancy care, the patient was directed to Dr. Maciej Gawlak of the Holy Family Hospital. After an ultrasound showed abnormalities in the late 21st week, Gawlak explained Polish abortion law to the mother, and sent her to a more specialized hospital, the Institute of Mother and Child. Different tests were ordered and conducted there. Gawlak had asked the Institute to consider abortion, but they refused.
When the patient returned to the Holy Family Hospital, Gawlak met her again with Professor Bogdan Chazan. Polish law allows for eugenic abortion until the moment of viability. According to the WHO standards, viability of the child begins at the end of the 22nd week of pregnancy. Chazan refused the abortion after the 24th week ended because of conscientious objection, and instead offered her complete care and hospice for the baby.
Gawlak referred her to another hospital (Bielański Hospital), known for performing abortions, but they said that it was too late (now 5 days after the 24th week). This is a gray area in Polish law as some doctors say that a child with birth defects might not yet be viable by the 24th week.
The patient decided to give birth and not to go abroad for a late-term abortion.
She gave birth at the Bielański Hospital, and her baby boy lived for a few days.