Catholic Health Center for Women Opens in Manhattan

Offers Pro-life Options for Treating Infertility

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By Genevieve Pollock

NEW YORK, DEC. 8, 2009 (Zenit.org).- Today in New York City, a Catholic health center for women officially opened with a waiting list of patients eager for its particular approach to reproductive care and family planning.

Doctor Anne Mielnik, the director of "Gianna -- The Catholic Health Care Center for Women," explained to ZENIT that her clinic is only one piece of the last pro-life bastion in the city.

The center is owned by St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan, the last of its kind in a city that once numbered 15 Catholic hospitals.

Mielnik stated that the Sisters of Charity, the order in charge of the hospital, invested in the Gianna center, despite the difficult economy, because they saw that the women of New York City have a need that is not being met.

One aspect of this need, the doctor explained, is helping couples with infertility to "conceive in a way that is in line with God's plan." For this reason, she added, today's ribbon-cutting ceremony has special significance on the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Some "15% of couples will struggle with infertility," Mielnik said, and "in the years that I have done medicine, I don't think I have seen anything that causes more anxiety and more stress."

"It is a tremendous health problem," she added, and "many Catholic couples are not aware of what the Church teaches in terms of what is an acceptable treatment for infertility."

The doctor applauded the U.S. bishops' conference for releasing a new document on the topic of reproductive technologies and Church teaching, titled "Life-Giving Love in an Age of Technology," last month at their annual fall general assembly.

Overwhelmed with regret

Couples are "not aware that alternatives are available, which are completely in line with their faith and highly effective," she stated.

There are so few of these Catholic clinics in the country that infertile couples looking for help often land in the secular clinics where they are "pushed very quickly and often very aggressively to do procedures like in vitro fertilization," she said.

In fact, Mielnik noted that the Gianna center, which is located near Grand Central Station, faces an in vitro fertilization clinic right across the street.

Couples find themselves in an "intensely anxiety provoking" situation, she said, "desperately wanting a child," often without "clear guidance on what is licit."

They enter these clinics and are "pressured to do something that -- as the couples themselves will say clearly -- they know violates their conscience," she noted.

The doctor continued: "Many of them going into a procedure like in vitro fertilization recognize the possibility of creating embryos that are then frozen or destroyed, or the possibility of having to terminate pregnancies if they have multiple embryos implant.

"Yet because they feel like they have no other options they go forward with it, and then are overwhelmed with regret.

"They end up keeping embryos in storage for decades afterward, because they don't want to destroy them; they recognize them as their children."

The Gianna center offers an alternative, she said, that supports the couple in their marriage and also can help them to fulfill the dream of having a child.

Stepping up

The bishops' statement is "phenomenal," Mielnik affirmed, and now the "medical community needs to step up and make sure that the alternative is available" for couples.

Women want to be "faithful to their Catholic values in reproductive health care and family planning," she said, but often they "feel like they have nowhere to go" where they will not be pressured "to do things that they don't believe in."

"We have not started advertising yet," the center director said, but "we already have a waiting list with over 120 people on it." As well, she added, people from Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other areas have been contacting the center without formally put their names on the list.

There is "definitely" a demand, Mielnik said.

The director expressed the opinion that the center will appeal not only to Catholics, but also "more broadly to the infertility population in New York City."

"We have this new alternative for treating infertility called NaPro Technology," she explained, which is "as effective if not more effective than in vitro fertilization."

The doctor continued, "The approach that we use works cooperatively with the woman's fertility system, and we're able to help a couple conceive through a natural act of intercourse, which, just speaking with couples, is what most of them would prefer."

More economical

Additionally, she said, our approach is essentially cheaper. She explained that a single cycle of in vitro fertilization -- which is usually not successful until after multiple rounds -- can cost $10,000 each in out-of-pocket costs.

The director said that the staff at the Gianna center have been working to keep the costs down for patients by selecting treatment options that are covered by most health insurance.

Another service the center provides, Mielnik said, is education for those couples "who don't want to space their children using hormones" and are looking for natural alternatives such as the Creighton Model FertilityCare System, a natural family planning model.

There are many non-Catholic women who are pro-life, she said, including a conservative Jewish population in New York as well as a large Christian group "who would be interested in our general health care because our values are in line with theirs on the issue of the sanctity of human life."

This pro-life health care is what St. Vincent's Hospital is known for. Mielnik stated that she has been working closely with the Sisters of Life in the opening of the center, and they "have said definitively that they look to St. Vincent's as the last pro-life hospital in the city."

They say that there is "nowhere else to turn when they have women in crisis pregnancies or with adverse perinatal diagnoses," she added.

"St. Vincent's is like a last stronghold of pro-life medical ethics in this city," the doctor said, and the Gianna center is now a part of its Manhattan outreach.

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On the Net:

Gianna center: http://www.svcmc.org/body.cfm?id=1831