Infertility Treatments, in Accord With Church Teaching
Interview With Dr. Thomas Hilgers of the Pope Paul VI Institute
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OMAHA, Nebraska, JULY 16, 2004 (Zenit.org).- Many Catholic couples who experience infertility can achieve pregnancy without resorting to immoral medical treatments, says an expert in natural procreative technology.
Dr. Thomas Hilgers, director of Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, explained to ZENIT some of the fertility methods he has developed that are in accord with Church teachings.
Q: What are the main causes of infertility?
Hilgers: Infertility is due to many causes. It is often called multifactorial, but unfortunately the medical profession only usually focuses on one issue at a time.
The main causes of infertility include endometriosis, polycystic ovarian disease and pelvic adhesive disease, along with a variety of underlying hormonal dysfunctions and ovulation-related abnormalities. Tubal disease and obstruction is also a cause of infertility, but not as common as the others.
Q: Among the causes, how important is the role of sexual diseases contracted through premarital relations; past use of certain kinds of contraception; and the decision to delay having children?
Hilgers: It is difficult to say exactly how often these are linked. Certainly, sexually transmitted diseases can cause pelvic adhesive disease and tubal obstruction.
My own concern is with the incompleteness and unsatisfactory nature of premarital relationships when sexual intercourse is involved. I think that, in many cases, women who have premarital sex use contraception so that they do not become pregnant; later, when it is difficult for them to become pregnant, they can experience resentment and anger.
This makes it very complex, and the chronic stress that develops from this may be another underlying factor to infertility.
Q: What is the institute's success rate in overcoming infertility?
Hilgers: Our approach to the evaluation and treatment of infertility is one that looks at the underlying problems -- the diseases -- that cause infertility and then treats those diseases successfully.
This is the primary approach that we use in "NaProTechnology," or natural procreative technology.
NaProTechnology is a new women's health science that has been described in the new medical textbook, "The Medical and Surgical Practice of NaProTechnology" [Pope Paul VI Institute Press].
In this situation, our success rates are statistically much better than the artificial reproductive technologies. In fact, they average about two to three times more effective. Generally speaking, we will see effectiveness rates in the 50% to 80% range, depending upon the problem and the extent of the abnormality.
Q: Briefly, what fertility methods are in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church? Which are not?
Hilgers: Those approaches that do not separate love from life are the methods that are in accord with the teachings of the Catholic Church. These do not include such approaches as artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization.
Those that are acceptable are the approaches that are used in NaProTechnology. This scientific method looks for the basic underlying medical problems that are associated with infertility and then corrects them.
Q: Why is it so important for Catholics to use fertility methods that do not contradict what the Church teaches?
Hilgers: The Church has been extremely wise in its teaching relative to reproductive-related issues.
It teaches, first of all, that marriage is a sacred relationship and that children are the supreme gift of marriage. It does not treat children as commodities. The Church's approach makes good psychological and spiritual sense, as well as good medical sense.
Unfortunately, over the years, only artificial reproductive technologies have been available. Because of the breakthrough research that has been ongoing at the Pope Paul VI Institute, methods are now available that are very effective, medically authentic and completely consistent with the teachings of the Church. In many ways, it proves the validity of what the Church has been teaching all of these years.
Q: How can Catholics find doctors in their area who can help treat their infertility but not compromise their beliefs?
Hilgers: I would personally refer them to a Web site where one can find a teacher of the Creighton Model FertilityCareTM System -- the system that has been developed at the Pope Paul VI Institute. The teachers trained in that system are allied health professionals who can guide them toward physicians who have training in these areas.
Q: The desire to have children is very strong. What do you say to couples who cannot conceive using those methods approved by the Church?
Hilgers: No program of infertility treatment is universally or 100% successful. In fact, there is no program for the treatment of infertility that even comes close.
If one watches the news or morning television programs, one gets the mistaken impression that the artificial reproductive technologies are almost the only alternative available to women with infertility problems.
What they do not tell you is that they are extremely expensive, the dropout rate in their use is extraordinarily high, and that, overall, they help less than 1% of women with fertility problems in any given year.
Physicians who are involved in the provision of Catholic reproductive health care do not have to apologize for the services they have to offer. In fact, they can be extremely proud of the good record they have and the ability to help women and married couples in a way which is morally consistent.
At the same time, adoption is a very fulfilling way of family building for many couples.
In our program at the Pope Paul VI Institute, 90% of the couples who come to us either have a biological child of their own or have an adopted family. This is an incredible success rate and we are very proud of it.