Dr. Martha Garza is a cradle Catholic who underwent a spiritual conversion four years into her career. The experience transformed her spiritual life and changed the way she practices reproductive medicine in San Antonio.
Register correspondent Joel Davidson spoke with Garza during her recent stop in Anchorage, Alaska, where she gave several presentations on the challenges and rewards of aligning women’s health care with the Catholic faith.
You have said that most medical schools embrace the “culture of death.” What do you mean by this?
You may be able to get through some medical schools today without performing abortions, but without prescribing the birth-control pill and doing sterilizations, it’s going to be very tough. I keep track of a group of medical students in San Antonio, and things are worse now than when I was in medical school. I’m sort of the Catholic physician students informally meet with to discuss difficult medical cases. I’ve found that these students have been indoctrinated in the culture of death from day one. On the first day of medical school, they are already talking about abortion and euthanasia. Students come out wondering if they should even be in medical school.
How did this affect you when you first started your practice in 1990?
When I first started, I was doing sterilizations and giving out contraception. I didn’t do abortions personally, but I referred for them. I thought that was my moral obligation as a doctor. I hated my practice, but I never stopped long enough to realize why.
Then I had a patient, a beautiful young girl who had a brainstem clot, which was probably a result of Norplant [birth-control system, which releases hormones for five years after being implanted into the upper arm]. Because of the brainstem clot, she was paralyzed from the neck down, and I was asked to take out the Norplant at the hospital. I didn’t put the Norplant in, but I very well could have. I remember being shocked about what happened to her. I did some research, and this started me questioning: “What else are the drug companies not telling us?”
Around that same time, a patient of mine asked if I wanted to go on a trip to the Holy Land. This was 1994, four years into my practice. In the Holy Land, I was moved by the healing miracles. You hear about them since childhood, but it’s different to sit right where they happened. I came back wanting to practice medicine the way Christ would.
How did these experiences change your medical practice?
My first decision was to stop doing sterilizations. I still struggled with contraception and in vitro fertilization. I didn’t know these were against Church teaching until a friend gave me an EWTN tape and I heard about a method of natural family planning called the Creighton Model. It is very scientific. This was my answer to contraception. I had never heard this stuff before, and here I was 40 years old and Catholic all my life.
How did this impact your medical practice?
I sent a letter to all my patients letting them know I had learned about natural family planning. If they were interested, I would be happy to teach them, but I said I was no longer giving anyone contraception. The most vehemently angry patients were Catholic women. In response to that letter, about half my patients left. For about four to six months, things were very shaky economically. Then it stabilized, and my practice has continued to grow ever since.
Has natural family planning helped your medical practice?
With my infertility patients, NFP is the most powerful tool that I have to help them get pregnant. I now leave couples in control of their lives, which is very important in infertility because you often make couples jump through so many hoops trying to get pregnant that you destroy the romance and the intimacy of marriage. With NFP, the couple knows as well as I do what days are most effective and when certain things should be done.
In vitro fertilization was a big part of your practice when you started your professional career. How did this change?
When you have an IVF lab, you have to compile your statistics every year. As I did the statistics one night, I saw the number of women we brought in, the number of embryos we created and the number of embryos we actually implanted. Then I saw the successful pregnancies and, finally, the take-home babies. The number just went down almost logarithmically.
Then, when I looked at the embryos we had frozen and the ones we discarded because they were not deemed perfect enough to save, I was stunned to see how many embryos we lost. For the first time, it struck me that I had been involved in hundreds of abortions.
Now that you no longer do in vitro fertilizations or prescribe contraception, how do you see your professional life in relation to your sacramental life in Christ?
They are very closely related now. I love what I do. It is tiring and lonely, but that’s okay. It is difficult to follow Christ, especially in medicine, but it is also an honor. Now I constantly pray, even if my patients don’t know about it. I’m praying as I do a pap smear or as I’m listening to a heart.
I now take into account my patients’ spiritual history. As medical students, we were never taught to consider a patient’s spiritual history, but I realized you couldn’t divide people like that.
The effect of abortion on women in the United States, for instance, is incredible, and I would say 90% to 99% of the time, there is a spiritual or emotional component to a physical ailment. In my practice, it is the rare woman who does not hesitate, who does not look down, who does not tear up, when she admits to me that she has had an abortion. With that little opening, I will ask if they have had healing in their life.
Joel Davidson is based in