NEW ORLEANS — "Be missionaries," John Brehany encouraged participants at a one-day seminar called "The Culture of Life in Medical Practice," on Aug. 10. Like those who traveled to foreign lands to bring Christ to souls, health-care professionals were encouraged by Brehany to join medical associations and organizations in order to share the pro-life message and help shape life-affirming policies.
More than 250 physicians, other health-care professionals, medical students, lawyers, clergy and religious and practitioners of natural family planning (NFP) attended the seminar at the 32nd annual meeting of the American Academy of FertilityCare Professionals. The seminar presented topics on the status of conscience rights in the United States; how Natural Procreative Technology, or NaPro, can treat infertility; and what options Catholics have under Obamacare.
Presenters included Dr. Thomas Hilgers, the founder of NaPro technology, developer of the Creighton Model FertilityCare system and the founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb.
Brehany, the executive director and ethicist of the Catholic Medical Association, spoke about ways to advance the cause of pro-life ethics in medicine. The Hippocratic Oath was never morally neutral, he said, but clearly recognized good and evil practice in medicine.
It is safe to say that the vast majority of medical schools today administer an oath or promise that Hippocrates himself would not recognize. A 1993 survey cited by Brehany showed that modern oaths have been revised to eliminate prohibitions against abortion and euthanasia entirely. Yet most patients assume that all doctors take the original oath.
Brehany referenced a poll that showed that 88% of patients want doctors to share their morals, and they also want conscience protections for doctors, Brehany said. Health-care professionals need to engage and educate their patients about the current threats to conscience, since most patients "assume everything is fine," Brehany added.
More Effective Than IVF
NaPro technology was a central topic at the seminar. Dr. Joseph Stanford, professor in the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine, spoke about studies that have shown NaPro, which is Church-approved, is more successful than in vitro fertilization (IVF) at achieving live births and at treating the underlying medical factors causing infertility. NaPro seeks to restore the natural reproductive cycle with a respect for life, Stanford pointed out. IVF, on the other hand, seeks to replicate the reproductive system in the lab. IVF views the embryo as a means to an end, which is pregnancy at all costs, he said.
"NaPro is based on ethics and science," Stanford explained. "The ethics ground the science."
Gabriel Fuselier, a Louisiana State University undergraduate who is applying to medical schools, said he was impressed by "how well developed a science NaPro is." Fuselier observed that the Creighton Model uses a specific language that women can share with future generations. "Once women learn the method, they can pass it on to their daughters," he reflected.
Dr. Charles Aycock, a physician from Baton Rouge, La., said he first heard about NaPro from his patients. "It would be good to be able to offer it to patients who are looking for it," he said.
"NaPro is the biological counterpart to the theology of the body," explained Dr. George Delgado, a pro-life physician, during his presentation. He explained how NaPro has been shown to successfully treat premenstrual syndrome, ovarian cysts, repetitive miscarriage, endometriosis, postpartum depression and other issues.
Kyle Duncan, a lawyer with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, spoke about the status of conscience protection in the United States. (Duncan and the Becket Fund represent EWTN in its lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate. The Register is a service of EWTN.) Duncan said that the government claims it has "a compelling interest" in increasing access to contraception and sterilization.
"When the government has a compelling interest in something, it generally has a great deal of leeway in what it does. It can usually overcome objections, even conscience objections, to its laws and regulations," he explained.
"We should all take note that the federal government thinks that it is pursuing objectives of the very highest order," Duncan said. "It will probably stop at nothing to succeed."
There currently are 37 lawsuits filed against the HHS mandate on behalf of businesses owned by religious individuals, according to the Becket Fund website. In these cases, the federal government actually has argued that, "if you are in the commercial realm, you don’t have any religious rights at all. Any kind of business has no right to make a claim under the First Amendment or under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act," Duncan explained, which he called "a striking position." In several of these cases, including Hobby Lobby’s, the courts have disagreed with the federal government and have granted injunctions (temporary relief from the mandate) to the businesses while their cases move through the justice system.
The Obama administration’s "accommodation" for religious organizations under the HHS mandate is an example of the government stepping in to try and define moral matters, Duncan explained.
"The government has said, ‘You are sufficiently separated from contraception and abortion.’ The problem with that position is that the government doesn’t get to decide what the proper degree of complicity is. Religious believers do," Duncan stated.
A Pro-Life Practice
A seminar highlight was Dr. Kim Hardey’s story. Hardey is a physician who converted to a pro-life practice after living with a self-described "contraceptive, anti-life mentality." As a young physician focused on building his practice, Hardey briefly thought about aborting his son when he first learned of his wife’s unexpected pregnancy. After losing this same child several years later in a car accident, Hardey and his wife realized that their contraceptive behavior had been selfish and wrong. They immediately decided to be open to whatever children God would give them.
As a physician, though, Hardey continued to prescribe contraception to his patients. His heart changed when he read
Humanae Vitae (The Regulation of Birth) and the writings of Blessed Pope John Paul II.
"It changed my life," Hardey shared. "I wept because I had seen this lived out, day after day, in my practice — all these nice patients who had been living with their past sins of abortions and sexually transmitted diseases and divorces."
"I realized the Church had the truth," he shared. "I was empowered because I realized this is the best thing for women."
Hardey converted his practice to Catholic teachings on openness to life — he no longer prescribed artificial birth control or performed sterilizations. His colleagues at the time wanted nothing to do with him, and Hardey took a significant pay cut in order to practice medicine as his conscience led him.
His advice to students and medical residents was to heed Sirach 2:1: "When you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourselves for trials."
"You know this life we’re choosing is correct, but nobody should tell you it’s going to be very easy," Hardey said. "God is very patient with us, and he will give everyone what they need in their life to change. And how we respond along the way will determine the very state of our souls at the hour of our death."
Janneke Pieters is based in