Polish Code of Medical Ethics
In the December 1992 issue of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal you published the Polish Code of Medical Ethics with introductions by Jacek A. Piatkiewicz and Robert Baker. Jacek Piatkiewicz writes (p. 362), and Robert Baker follows him, that the new code "was approved by an overwhelming majority (449 for, 75 against, 58 abstaining)." I am afraid that these figures are inconsistent with the data supplied by the Polish mass media. The leading Polish newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza (16 December 1991), states that 354 delegates voted for the new code and 317 against it. The same figures are quoted by the most authoritative Polish political weekly, Polityka (4 January 1992).
Mr. Piatkiewicz does not mention either that 40 delegates left the convention before the vote in protest over the undemocratic proceedings. If we add those 40 potentially negative votes to the 317 votes against, then the result is not at all "an overwhelming approval" for the new code.
I am not a physician myself, and I was not present at the Second National Congress of Physicians in Bielsko-Biala, however, I find this discrepancy disturbing. Respect for facts seems to me equally imperative as respect for human life.
Jacek A. Piatkiewicz Replies:
In his letter Mr. Szawarski denies the data I presented on the vote approving the Polish Code of Medical Ethics. He has quoted the figures published by the Polish mass media as the true ones. Interestingly enough, he did not try to confirm them with the Polish General Medical Chamber, which has the original documents on the Extraordinary Second National Congress of Physicians. The figures I cited regarding the Code's approval are clearly stated on page 63 of the Congress proceedings.
So where do the figures presented in Mr. Szawarski's letter come from? As Mr. Szawarski states, these figures have been published in some Polish newspapers, among them "the most authoritative Polish political weekly, Polityka" (a description that was especially accurate during the Communist period of Poland's history). The figures are simply untrue. The figures presented refer only to the result of the vote on article 37 of the Code, which concerns abortion. The very narrow margin (354 for, 317 against, 38 abstaining) decided the formulation of the exceptions to the abortion ban, which are "saving the mother's life and health" and "when pregnancy is the result of a criminal act." But what was the alternative considered in the vote? It was the single exception, "to save the mother's life," that was in the [End Page 355] original draft of the Code (page 44 of the Congress proceedings).
Mr. Szawarski finds the discrepancy in the figures cited disturbing. I am disturbed too, but the cause of my concern is of a completely different nature. Why does Mr. Szawarski not try to reconcile "the discrepancy" by asking organizers of the Congress for an explanation?
University of Swansea, Wales