New Portuguese code no longer defines abortion as ethical misconduct

BMJ 2008; 337 doi: (Published 08 October 2008) Cite this as: BMJ 2008;337:a1945
  1. Tiago Villanueva
  1. 1Lisbon

    Abortion is no longer considered an act of serious ethical misconduct in the latest ethical code for doctors in Portugal, which was approved recently by the Portuguese Medical Association.

    The previous code stated, “The practices of both abortion and euthanasia are considered acts of serious ethical misconduct.” However, the new code, which was approved at the end of September by the plenary of regional councils, the most important decision making body in the Portuguese Medical Association, no longer includes this statement. Instead it simply says, “The physician must have respect for human life from the moment of its inception.”

    However, the code still refers to abortion as being allowed only if it is essential to save a woman’s life and so does not explicitly refer to the recent law decriminalising and regulating abortion, enacted on 15 July 2007 after a national referendum. This law allowed abortions to be carried out in registered premises up to the 10th week of pregnancy.

    The new code was overwhelmingly approved by 107 delegates at a meeting to review it, with only two votes against and three abstentions. It will officially replace the previous version, which had been in place since March 1985, by the end of the year.

    Pedro Nunes, the association’s president, said, “This code stresses that there currently isn’t a consensus surrounding the moment when life begins. This makes each physician responsible—in the light of scientific knowledge, of his or her ethical reflection, and also of his or her convictions—for considering the moment when life begins. The text . . . makes the physician responsible for choosing his or her own path and gives him or her more freedom.”


    Cite this as: BMJ 2007;337:a1945