Portuguese Physicians Capitulate to Pressure to Change Ethical Code to Allow Abortions

By Matthew Cullinan Hoffman

July 11, 2008 ( - After months of conflict, the leadership of the Portuguese Order of Physicians has capitulated to government pressure to allow abortions in their ethical code.

At a meeting held earlier this week, the organization’s National Executive Council proposed new language that, while condemning any destruction of human life, would no longer specify when that life begins.

While the existing code states clearly that "the practice of abortion constitutes a grave ethical failure," the new code strikes that language, reportedly stating that life constitutes the highest value, and that "it is absolutely impossible to interrupt it" after it begins.

By removing the reference to abortion and leaving the issue of life’s beginning to the individual determination of the doctor, the code will permit physicians to perform abortions.

Until recently, Pedro Nunes, the President of the Order of Physicians, has resisted government pressure, including threats of prosecution, to change the code.  However, following the recent decision, he told the newspaper Jornal de Noticias that he fully accepted it.

Although there is a consensus on the end of life, he claimed, there is no consensus on its beginning, and "the Order of Physicians has no intention of determining it."

"That being the case, each doctor must make his own ethical determination, based on current scientific evidence, regarding the recommendations of the Order and the ethical principle of prudence."  However, he said, it could not be made based on the biased judgment of the physician.

Nunes’ claim that the beginning of human life is still controversial is denied by scientists and doctors worldwide.  The Ecuadorian Federation of Societies of Gynecology and Obstetrics recently issued a statement clearly stating that "science teaches that human life begins at conception" (see LifeSiteNews coverage at

Bioethicist Wesley J. Smith states on his website that "human life begins, biologically, at the completion of fertilization. That is simple, basic biology and embryology. Statements that it begins at implantation, or when the heart starts beating, or at birth, or at self consciousness, or whatever, are nothing but junk science and postmodern spin intended for use in winning political arguments."

The new language was approved unanimously by the Executive Council and will be subject to a vote by the full membership in September.

Previous coverage:

Portuguese Medical Association Defies Government Order to Accept Abortion

Portuguese Government to Prosecute Doctors Group Over "Illegal" Anti-Abortion Ethics Policy

700 Portuguese Doctors Sign Petition Urging Medical Association to Continue Opposing Abortion

Portuguese Government Orders Doctors to Remove Anti-Abortion Restrictions from Code of Ethics

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