If there ever were a model for an all-around Catholic medical practice, it’s the Culture of Life Family Services in Southern California.
With offices in San Diego and Escondido, Culture of Life Family Services provides a list of pro-life, pro-family services that include regular medical care for all ages from board-certified physicians, with certified nurses, prenatal and crisis-pregnancy care. Natural family planning is taught, following the teachings of the Church.
Add bonuses like the availability of spiritual counseling, and you have a practice that respects life from conception to natural death — which appeals to many patients in the area.
"We experienced quite a bit of growth on many fronts," says Dr. George Delgado, the medical director, an expert in health-care ethics.
Delgado’s expertise comes with certification by the National Catholic Bioethics Center. He regularly appears on Catholic Answers’ Pro-Life Open Forum radio show to offer help with bioethical and pro-life concerns.
It’s a growing general family medical practice, beginning with prenatal health care for women "who want to come to a place that offers Catholic health care consistent with Catholic teaching," says Delgado.
He explains: "We want to present the truth charitably so it will be accepted." That is done directly if patients share their religious beliefs with him and the staff. Otherwise, natural moral laws are shared.
This kind of care presents lots of opportunities for evangelization, including with teenage patients.
"With regards to the adolescents, we feel our job is to preach the gospel of life — and use words if necessary, to paraphrase St. Francis," explains Delgado.
One way is to bolster the relationship between parents and teens. According to Delgado, while most pediatricians often want to talk to the adolescent alone, this practice wants both child and parent to speak with the doctor together.
Naturally, if the practice has any suspicion of abuse, it would report it, as all medical professionals are required to do. The intent here is to foster an open dialogue, not divide the parent and child.
Delgado explains how he models chastity and no-drugs-and-alcohol talks for parents: "Because all the messages they’re hearing from society, and loud voices are anti-life, anti-chastity, anti-family, often, they feel very reluctant and timid talking about these things — because they want to be accepted by their adolescents. They have a real hesitancy to talk about it. I can help them to overcome that by modeling that discussion they should have.
"We encourage them to stay free of substances and also talk about chastity — the beauty of chastity and how important it is to be chaste and how sexual intimacy is something that is very good and beautiful in the right context: marriage. Otherwise, it can be dangerous and harmful in the wrong context."
"There’s a positive impact with families by teaching with words and by example, always in an age-appropriate manner with the children," Delgado adds.
In Escondido, Joe and Sue O’Donnell are very happy with this approach.
Before they came to Culture of Life Family Services, previous pediatricians told them they had to leave their 16-year-old daughter alone in the room with the doctor — the official position of the American Academy of Pediatrics — who then asked her about her sexual activity. When she said she was chaste, the doctor told her, "When you are [ready for that], just tell your mom and dad you’re not feeling well; you can come in, and I’ll give you the contraceptives you need," mom Sue recalls. "I didn’t leave her in the office next time."
The O’Donnells were happy to find Dr. Delgado "the extreme opposite," Sue says. "There was a very pro-family encouragement of the mother and father. Dr. Delgado was caring about her soul as well."
For the O’Donnell family, that physician mentoring is wide-ranging. "We see this God-centered man inside and outside the office," Sue says. "He goes to our parish. He’s a great family man and husband. These teens look at that and see the peace and joy. … They really trust what he says."
She said the medical approach and example "complements the whole way we’re trying to raise the children, too."
Speaking of raising children, the medical practice appeals to married couples who appreciate its emphasis on natural family planning as well as the use of NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model Fertility Care System to help infertile couples in accordance with Church teaching.
The practice also offers free services like pregnancy tests and ultrasounds, making it a growing pro-life pregnancy center.
"We get about 45% of our referrals from the people who are standing outside the abortion clinics praying," points out nurse Debbie Bradel, the crisis-pregnancy coordinator.
Then, 33% are referrals from other pregnancy-care centers without a doctor on staff. The rest find the hotline phone number online.
"We have had calls from all over California," Bradel says.
In addition, there’s the new abortion-pill reversal program, which began when one woman who changed her mind came in, wanting to save her baby. Delgado’s knowledge of NaProTechnology and pharmacology led him to the answer to help her — and others.
He has already spoken about the reversal process to the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
At Culture of Life Family Services, the staff shepherd women through all stages of care, from prenatal visits and delivery to postpartum checkups and well-baby care.
Because the practice is pro-life at both ends of the spectrum, Delgado is also board-certified in hospice and palliative medicine.
"The hospice philosophy is very consistent with Catholic bioethics: to nurture life and increase the quality, without prolonging the dying process, but not hastening death," he explains.
Also available is faith-based counseling. Among those offering it are Deacon Ken Finn, one of the founders of the practice, and his wife, Marie.
Finn says that many patients ask him to pray with them. "It’s a privilege and honor to pray for them and really completes the whole holistic package when we do that," he says.
This complete range of services and compassionate Catholic care is what draws new patients and keeps patients coming back.
"We offer something much more attractive [than the average medical practice]," says Delgado. The plusses: "Better marriages and holiness."
"We make it the whole experience," he says. "The holistic approach we take includes spirituality because we’re so grounded in our faith. We’re an explicitly Catholic practice. We post our (mission) statement in the offices. We have crucifixes in every room and religious images throughout."
One of those images is a life-size statue of Blessed Mother Teresa. In 2011, Dr. Gianna Emmanuela Molla — daughter of St. Gianna Molla — visited the office and entrusted the medical practice to her saint-mother. St. Gianna’s picture and second-class relic were enshrined in the waiting room, and prayer cards with prayers for her intercession are available.
The practice’s annual Pro-Life Gala fundraiser, which will be held on Oct. 13, attracts prominent Catholic speakers, like this year’s Immaculee Ilibagiza and honorary chairpersons Philip and Tiffany Rivers (the San Diego Chargers’ quarterback is an advisory board member, as is Archbishop-designate Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco).
The Riverses, along with their six children, ages 1 to 10, know firsthand the benefits of this medical practice.
"We feel very blessed to be patients and benefactors of Culture of Life Family Services," say Philip and Tiffany Rivers. "Dr. Delgado is our family physician, and we feel confident that he will always provide the best medical care to our six children and that everything he advises is consistent with the teachings of the Church. COLFS provides the absolutely highest-quality, authentically Catholic and fully pro-life medical care for our family."
"It’s reassuring to know that there are not only physicians, but the nonprofits connected to them, that are squarely aligned with Catholic teaching on life, human dignity and marriage," says Kent Peters, director of the Office for Social Ministry of the Diocese of San Diego.
"If any other physician or physicians’ group would like to see Catholic medicine in practice," says Peters, "we can point to COLFS and say, ‘See, this is what it looks like.’ They are a teaching tool as well as an institution."
Joseph Pronechen is the
Register’s staff writer.