GREENVILLE—Natural family planning is commonly perceived as a Catholic issue, but that notion was questioned recently by one of only two physicians who practice it locally.
“Almost all of the clients we see in the Diocese of Charleston are not of the Catholic faith,” Dr. Ingi Collins said at a conference on fertility care held July 21-24 in Greenville.
Trying to convince Catholics to use natural family planning “is like pulling teeth,” Collins said. “I actually have more luck with Protestant, Evangelical, pro-life women.”
Collins, a physician at Women’s Care in Shelby, N.C., was one of five speakers who addressed the topic of “Caring for the Infertile Couple.” The discussion, held at St. Mary Church, was part of the four-day annual meeting of the American Academy of Fertility Care Professionals that gathered at the Hyatt Regency.
Sister Renee Mirkes, a Franciscan sister who directs the Center for NaProEthics in the ethics division of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Omaha, Neb., set the table for the panel discussion with a presentation on the ethics of in vitro fertilization vs. NaProTechnology.
NaProTechnology, or natural procreated technology, uses the Creighton Model System in trying to identify and resolve the infertility problem within a Catholic moral framework.
Sister Renee said finding a moral solution to infertility is vital to society’s moral infrastructure, which “rests squarely on the family.”
She said NaProTechnology, with its disease-based approach to infertility, is up to three-and-a-half times more effective than in vitro fertilization in achieving pregnancy.
NaProTechnology “not only makes elegant, good medical sense, it makes elegant ethical sense,” she said. “Its protocols assist infertile couples to procreate in full respect for God’s life-giving plan,” by respecting the personal dignity of the couple and the baby.
The NaProTechnology approach to infertility respects two basic human goods: the dignity of human life and the dignity of procreation.
What Sister Renee describes as natural, moral norms follow “directly from the Catholic Church’s comprehensive vision of each of us, which is rooted in reason and confirmed and enriched by faith.”
Catholic teaching, as spelled out in Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letters Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) and Donum Vitae (“The Gift of Life”), states that it is acceptable to facilitate fertility using the Creighton Model System.
In Donum Vitae, “fertilization is licitly sought when it is the result of a conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh.
“But from the moral point of view, procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not desired as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses union.”
Donum Vitae goes on to dismiss the practice of artificial impregnation.
“To reduce the cohabitation of married persons on the conjugal act to mere organic function for the transmission of germs to life would be to convert the domestic hearth, sanctuary of the family, into nothing more than a biological laboratory.”
Sister Renee said the church’s message is clear.
“Infertility treatments must assist and not replace the conjugal act. In other words, the center of attention and attraction and action is the conjugal act,” she said.
That’s not the case with in vitro fertilization, which is directed almost exclusively on the needs of the couple without regard to the newborn.
Providers and users of in vitro fertilization promote the notion that infertile couples have the right to conceive a baby “in any way they wish in the most expedient way they can,” Sister Renee said. “But the trade-off in expedient baby making is a devastating objectification.”
She said the IVF process reduces the parents and the baby to the control of science and technology, while NaProTechnology promotes the “genuine human culture.”
“It encourages the couple to use their reason, not primarily to calculate the most expeditious ways to get pregnant, but to discover and to appreciate the laws of their nature and the meaning of human dignity,” Sister Renee said.
The cost for the use of NaProTechnology varies depending on the level of treatment needed for each couple, but Sister Renee said insurance companies are beginning to provide more coverage for those wishing to use that method of fertility.
“In our estimation, they are beginning to characterize NaProTechnology as a treatment for a disease,” she said.
Dr. Patrick Yeung, director of the Duke Center for Endometriosis Research and Treatment in Durham, N.C., and a panelist in the discussion of fertility, said being an OB/GYN physician is a moral challenge, especially for practicing Catholics who are called to follow church teachings as they relate to human life.
“That, to me, is the key question,” he said. “Catholics tend to avoid that field of medicine because of that.”
Yeung said the focus should be on what a Catholic OB/GYN physician can do, not what he or she can’t do.
“It should be about how you can find a problem and fix it, how you can work with a woman’s natural cycle,” he said.
“Good ethics is good medicine,” Yeung said. “So you can talk about things in terms of good, sound medical principles.”
Yeung and Collins are currently the only OB/GYN physicians in the Carolinas who practice natural family planning.
Batrice Adcock, a registered nurse and program director for the natural family planning program with the Diocese of Charlotte, said she is working with the Diocese of Charleston to update the current list of NFP physicians in the two dioceses.
“There’s a need for recruiting of NFP physicians and a need to get the word out,” Adcock said.
The St. Mary session was co-s
ponsored by the two dioceses and the NFP Program of Catholic Social Services.
Joining the doctors on the panel were Denise Hopper, president of the South Carolina Adoption Coalition for Education and Support, and Father Patrick Cooper, pastor at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Mauldin.
Father Cooper addressed the issue raised by Collins on the apparent disconnect between Catholics and natural family planning, framing it in the context of church teachings and specifically marital chastity.
“The practice of chastity in marriage is to acknowledge, recognize and maintain the integrity of the total gift of human sexuality,” Father Cooper said. “But, if you talk about chastity from the pulpit, people are going to think you’re crazy.”
He said in his experience, evangelicals are more accepting than Catholics of marital chastity.
“It’s not being taught” in the Catholic Church, Father Cooper said.
But there are encouraging signs in the general population as more couples are rejecting artificial means of birth control and fertility that go beyond the moral question.
Donna Pierce said she was encouraged by what she heard from Sister Renee and the panel at the St. Mary session. A parishioner at St. Mary Help of Christians church in Aiken, Pierce said she is infertile and she and her husband, Bob, have four adopted children.
“It was very rewarding to be able to come up here to attend this conference,” she said.
The conference offered attendees the latest information about developments in the Creighton Model and other issues related to natural family planning. Among the topics discussed were “Family-centered Chastity Education,” “The Impact of Pornography on the Person and Family,” and “Women’s Mental Health after Pregnancy Loss; Abortion and Miscarriage.”