This article appeared in the November 2008 edition of the Catholic Medical Quarterly

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FEAMC Congress in Gdansk, Poland 11 – 14 September 2008

Report by Dr Ian M Jessiman

From an historical point of view Gdansk (Gyddanyzc, Danzig), ‘The Pearl of the Baltic’, is a fabulous place. It lies in Pomerania, now the north-western part of Poland, an area which has seen more than its fair share of wars and battles. The Teutonic Knights (reminiscences of school history!) ruled here from 1308 till about 1454. It was worth the effort to find the time to visit their fabulous castle at Malbork, only 35 miles distant. Gdansk joined the Hanseatic League in 1361 and flourished enormously in the 16th – 17th Century. This connection explains the Flemish style architecture of the town.

It was the site of the opening shots in World War II, when Hitler chose to bombard the garrison at Westerplatte (the sea aspect of Gdansk) prior to invading Poland. That he did so on 1st September 1939 and we declared war on the side of the Polish on 3rd gives us, nowadays, pause for thought! By the end of the war the larger part of the town had been destroyed but it has since been almost entirely rebuilt exactly as before. It retains its dockyards and shipping and is an important centre of the amber trade (sourced from the Baltic). Nowadays it forms part of the ‘Tri-City’ of Gdynia, Sopot and Gdansk. Famous among its citizens have been Fahrenheit, Hevelius and, more recently, Lech Walęsa.

If all that were not sufficient attraction, the Federation of European Catholic Medical Associations chose to hold its Congress there this year at the Biomedical College.

The meeting started with Mass at Oliwa Cathedral (a former Cistercian monastery) when Cardinal Barragan presided and gave a short sermon of welcome. The music, by the ‘Capella Gedanensis’, was excellent. The whole ceremony was most impressive, though a little spoiled by the constant to-ing and fro-ing of photographers throughout. The evening was rounded off by an excellent buffet in the Chapter House. It only remained to find one’s way home, which some of us did by tram – the greatest difficulty of which was of how to pay the fare!

On Friday the introductory talk was an extensive Power Point presentation by Cardinal Barragan. Thereafter it was down to work, and the next two days were taken up with an extensive programme of lectures from speakers of almost every European nation, giving a range of views, all in the Catholic tradition. The theme of the Congress was ‘Natural and statutory law in contemporary European medicine’. Sessions covered legal issues, bioethical problems in prenatal medicine, life support issues, the challenges presented by the diseases of civilisation, the sanctity of life and a number of other minor themes. Important among the topics were natural law and the doctor, autonomy, discrimination in old age and a talk by a priest whose task it is to develop the hospice movement in Poland. Dr Blin gave an excellent talk on ‘end of life in intensive care’ with references to ecclesiastical and legal documents on the subject. We learned that there are as yet no laws in Poland on ethico-medical issues and that consensus on these issues is unlikely. Unscheduled topics included concern for the evidence that homosexuality is genetic and a discussion over the concept of brain death which became extremely heated (though without definitive conclusion)!

The lunches and other buffets were all excellent and, of course, included Polish dishes such as pierogi (tiny stuffed pancakes) and soups. Sadly it was, apparently, the wrong season for barchtche!

On the Friday evening, following a light supper, there was a delightful Marian evening of music and poetry in the Polish style at the sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima, aided once again by the Capella Gedanesis.

On Saturday afternoon, while the congress continued in the main Hall, the Bureau (i.e. Council) of FEAMC met for a business session, but mainly to elect a new President and to consider the Gdansk declaration. For the Presidency there were two excellent candidates, Dr Alfredo Anzani of Italy and Dr Francois Blin of France. In the event Dr Blin was elected by 17 to 16, with one abstention. The draft declaration was considerably modified for presentation to the closing session on the Sunday.

The CMA has two votes at the FEAMC bureau (based on our membership) which were exercised on this occasion by Ian Jessiman (deputy delegate). Also attending the Gdansk conference were CMA President Steve Brennan and Maureen Jessiman.

In the meantime the other participants were able to go to Gdynia, to be greeted by the City authorities, to lay wreaths at the monument to the victims of 1970 and to walk to the plaque commemorating the visit of Pope John Paul II in 1987 where the Naval Representative Orchestra presented a program of music. Both groups then returned to Oliwa Cathedral for a short demonstration concert on the impressive and wide-ranging five-manual organ.

Buses then took those who had tickets to the Hotel Nadmorski in Gdynia for the Gala Dinner. Following the entrée there were formal speeches of welcome, notably from the President of Gdynia, and some light musical entertainment, after which we repaired to the sea front for a fantastic firework display. As the weather had turned rather cold we were glad to return to the dining room for our soup and other courses. There were a few other short speeches and some of the participants offered their musical contributions on the piano before we finished at about 12.30am.

Sunday began early in Solidarity Square, Gdansk, at the monument of the Three Crosses – a memorial to those killed or wounded in the 1970 strikes. At 10am we all assembled at the 15th Century Artus Court for the formal approval of the Gdansk declaration and the closing of the Congress. The declaration, originally written by our Polish hosts, had already been amended twice by the Bureau but a number of further changes (to the English text) were proposed from the floor and have been taken into account in the final version. Finally we repaired to St Mary’s Church (the largest Church in Gdansk) where, as the 15th century astronomical clock performed its gyrations for noon, our closing Mass began, celebrated by the Bishop and with music by the Schola Cantorum Gedanesis.


The Gdansk Declaration of the XIth Congress of the
European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations

Gdansk, 14 September 2008

Conscious of the trust placed in us as physicians and defenders of life, of the progress in medical knowledge and technologies, and of the ever better understanding gained into the physical, psychological, educational, spiritual, religious and existential needs of our patients and our society,

  • while aware of the dangers of ethical relativism and of moral permissiveness around us and in our midst;
  • in view of ongoing debates over the permissibility of abortion, euthanasia, the use of human embryos for research and so-called therapeutic purposes, human cloning, the creation of human-animal hybrid embryos, contraceptive and sterilization procedures and artificial reproductive technologies;
  • faced with the silent assumption that those carrying out the above procedures will be doctors;

authorized by the Christian traditions and ethos of European and world medicine, in dialogue with all doctors who believe in the dignity and freedom of the human being,

  1. We affirm that ethical norms and principles precede enacted laws and should influence their contents in accordance with natural law and the teaching of the Church.
  2. We affirm that in making decision on the medical treatment of the patients who place in us so great a trust, we should be guided above all by our conscience. Moral evaluation of medical practice must not be based upon superficial opinions or passing trends but on the sensitivity of a conscience formed according to objective ethical norms common to all people and consistently defended by the Church.
  3. In order to guarantee the freedom of practice of the profession, we have to uphold the right to conscientious objection
  4. We believe that one of the basic demands made of doctors should be ongoing personal development in both practical know-how and in moral stature.
  5. The special vocation of the doctor to serve the life and health of others requires a clear formulation of the principles of an objective and universal ethics.
  6. We affirm that the source and basis for all ethical norms is the inalienable dignity of the human person throughout the course of his or her life - from conception to natural death.
  7. Just as human dignity requires the protection of human life, it also demands special concern for its initial phases and respect for human procreation and sexuality.
  8. We promote activities which permits the protection of patients from procedures that violate their human dignity:
  • Decisively rejecting euthanasia, we support the development of palliative medicine;
  • Refusing to agree to abortion, we aim to ensure proper all-round care for the family and the sick child both before and after birth;
  • We choose the treatment of the underlying causes of infertility and not successive techniques of artificial reproduction;
  • We support the development of research into the use of stem cells taken from adults and umbilical cord blood, rejecting the use of human embryos for this purpose.
  1. We affirm and emphasize that medical practice with respect to matters as genetic manipulation and the end of life has to be realized without intentional loss of human life.
  2. We want to protect our children and young people from neglect, abuse and other threats to their health and dignity. We have to ensure proper education for all aspects of life.
  3. Aware of the number of people in our midst who are subject to abject poverty or under threats caused by misfortune, we uphold the tradition of the freedom of physicians to offer humanitarian and charitable aid, especially in neglected areas of the world, on the basis of principles and criteria lying beyond economics.
  4. Taking into account the responsibility doctors carry for the health and life of patients, we are convinced that medicine must be practiced in dignified conditions, which are due both to patients and to doctors, and we consistently affirm that in our activities the good of patients should have priority over other obligations.

Signed by:

President of the XI Congress of the European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations,
Prof. Josef Marek (
in substitution signed by Dr Francois Blin);

President of the Catholic Association of Polish Doctors,
Dr Anna Gręziak

Secretary of the European Federation of Catholic Medical Associations,
Dr Hans Stevens