OMAHA, Neb. – Craig Turczynski traveled from Texas to find ways to help infertile women that do not conflict with his religious beliefs. Cherie LeFevre came from St. Louis to learn how to treat her OB-GYN patients in obedience to her Catholicism. Amie Holmes flew from Ohio so she could practice medicine in conformity with church teachings when she graduates from medical school.
On a journey that would blend the aura of a pilgrimage with the ambiance of a medical seminar, the three arrived at an unassuming three-story red-brick building on a quiet side street in this Missouri River city.
Their destination was the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction, which has become perhaps the most prominent women’s health center serving Catholics and other doctors, medical students and patients who object for religious reasons to in vitro fertilization, contraceptives and other aspects of modern reproductive medicine.
“We have built a new women’s health science,” said Thomas Hilgers, who runs the institute. “Our system works cooperatively with the natural fertility cycle and enables doctors to treat women and married couples, especially Catholic married couples, in a way that allows them to live out their faith.”
Hilgers and his supporters say the approach, called “natural procreative technology,” can address a spectrum of women’s health issues, including family planning, premenstrual syndrome, postpartum depression and infertility, without the use of birth control pills, sterilization, abortion or in vitro fertilization. Instead, Hilgers said, he uses diagnostics, hormones and surgery to identify and treat underlying causes of reproductive ailments that other doctors often miss.
Although the institute is not formally affiliated with the church, Hilgers’ work is endorsed by groups such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Medical Association.
But many mainstream authorities question Hilgers’ assertions that his techniques are equal or even superior to standard therapies. They worry that women are being misled and given unproven, ineffective treatments, denying them the best available care.
“This is anti-science,” said Anita Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California at Los Angeles. “I respect people’s personal values. But I am deeply concerned that they are giving treatments and making claims that are not scientifically proven as safe and effective.”
These articles never seem to mention the conflict of interest for those who attack the work of Dr. Hilger. The lucrative IVF business does not exactly like a method more effective in many cases and devoid of the majority of medical expenses that IVF entails.
“Combining medicine and religion is dangerous,” said the Rev. Carlton Veazey, president of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. “This tendency is creeping into our health care system.”
Well then I guess this "Rev" should shut up then about medical issues.
Inspired by Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which condemned artificial birth control, Hilgers began by helping to develop, with colleagues at nearby Creighton University, a natural family planning method called the Creighton Model, which involves meticulously charting a woman’s monthly cycle.
But Hilgers goes beyond simply offering an alternative form of birth control.
An obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive surgeon who trained at the University of Minnesota Medical School, Hilgers said he combines the charting system with intensive hormonal and ultrasound studies for better diagnoses. He said he can then restore fertility and treat other ailments through individually tailored therapies, such as targeted hormones and surgical techniques he developed for conditions including blocked fallopian tubes, pelvic adhesions and endometriosis.
“We can look at a woman’s cycles in ways that others simply can’t,” Hilgers said during an interview in his office, surrounded by images of Popes Paul VI and John Paul II. “We work cooperatively with a woman’s cycle rather than suppressing it or destroying it. Many women come to us after years of being frustrated by the treatment they received elsewhere.”
That was the case for Cami Carlson, 33, of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, who came to the institute after five years of futile efforts to become pregnant with the help of her OB-GYN and a fertility specialist. Because Carlson is Catholic, in vitro fertilization was out of the question.
“Life is God’s to create,” Carlson said, echoing the sentiment of half a dozen other women from around the United States and Mexico interviewed while being treated at the clinic. “It’s a huge sense of peace knowing that we’re going about things in a morally sound manner.”
The institute, which is attracting more than 700 new patients a year, melds modern medical facilities with the philosophy and symbols of Catholicism. The waiting room greets patients with a bust of the Madonna and Child and an illuminated stained-glass crucifix. Bulletin boards titled “Miracle Baby Hall of Fame” are filled with snapshots of children.
Although most of the patients are Catholic, Hilgers accepts anyone. He said they are drawn by his holistic approach, attentive care and superior outcomes.
“Mainstream gynecology and reproductive medicine take a Band-Aid approach. Our success rates tend to be much, much better,” Hilgers said.