Sunday, 10 August 2008

Naprotechnology: a natural and realistic alternative to IVF

The 25th of last month was the 40th Anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae. According to the Catholic Church (see, for example, Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae) the sanctity of human life from its natural beginning to its natural end is central to the gospel message. From this knowledge stems the understanding, set out in Humanae Vitae, that to separate the nuptial act from its procreative potential is profoundly wrong, leading to disastrous adverse consequences for individuals, especially young people, for married couples, especially in men's attitude to women, and for society generally.* (See Note below)

For the best part of the last forty years, one of the world's leading health professionals who has dedicated his career and life to bringing this teaching of the Catholic Church to the practice of medicine is an American obsetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Thomas Hilgers who was inspired by Humanae Vitae as a young medical student.

With a team of nursing staff in St Louis, Missouri he pioneered the Creighton Model System of natural fertility appreciation (FertilityCare), which in turn has given birth to Natural Procreative Technology (or Napro). Now running the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska, and operating at the Creighton University School of Medicine, Dr Hilgers continues to explore the and develop this fascinating and growing arm of medicine.

On 9 -14 June 2008 in Rome, over 200 FertilityCare Practitioners and NaProTechnology physicians and gynaecologists gathered for the annual meeting of the American Academy of FertilityCare Practitioners. SPUC was represented there by Dr Lisa McCready, from whose report I now quote:

"Usually held in the States, Rome was chosen for this gathering because of the anniversary, but also to facilitate attendance by a growing number of trained or interested healthcare professionals from Europe. The conference addressed all aspects of NaProTechnology ranging from surgical restorative techniques to treat endometriosis, (a common cause of infertility) to discussion of the secularization of bioethics.

"NaPro is the medical extension of the Creighton model fertilitycare system, a natural fertility awareness program has been running in the USA for almost forty years. The medical applications of NaPro have grown during that time to become a comprehensive branch of women’s health medicine, which respects both the natural fertility cycle and the teaching of the Catholic Church. Working cooperatively with the woman’s body, NaPro has been shown to treat many gynaecological conditions including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, miscarriage and other causes of infertility.

"Presentations at the conference included case reports of the successful use of NaPro for a wide range of conditions. This included very significant data from Dr Phil Boyle’s clinic in Ireland, showing his success in achieving pregnancies in women who have had previously unsuccessful attempts at IVF, some of them multiple. Statistics from the USA suggest that in treating infertility, NaPro has between a 40-60% success rate in achieving pregnancy. This compares to a maximum success rate of 30% for IVF (UK average raw data “take-home-baby” rate).

"There is a profound depth to the ethos of NaPro, which somehow reveals the truth of human life and the fertility cycle. It is natural, holistic and at the same time sacred...

"Bringing NaProTechnology to the UK is and will be an uphill struggle, but one that will be worth fighting... The desire to give life and the compassion that causes people to seek and work in the IVF industry are forces for good that have become twisted. We are inadvertently allowing the destruction of thousands of embryos to give life to a few, and this is morally ignorant at best, and utilitarian at worst. NaProTechnology has the potential in this country to provide a realistic and successful alternative to most couples struggling to conceive, and this is precisely where the battle must be fought."

*Note: "Finally, careful consideration should be given to the danger of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It could well happen, therefore, that when people, either individually or in family or social life, experience the inherent difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid them, they may give into the hands of public authorities the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife." (Humanae Vitae, 17)

The history of the last 40 years has demonstrated the prophetic nature of the encyclical, not least the imposition on famlies by governments of birth control policies. In the UK, for example, even the Catholic authorities are co-operating with the government to provide Catholic schoolchildren secret access to abortion and contraception; and the UK government is one of 180 governments worldwide which are funding UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, which participates in China's forced abortion one-child policy. And the catastrophic decline in respect for human life which these policies involve is also reflected in IVF practice. As I blogged last month, IVF – which gave birth to the first IVF child thirty years ago – has led to over two million embryos discarded, or frozen, or selectively aborted, or miscarried or used in destructive experiments. (2,137,924 human embryos were created by specialists while assisting couples in the UK to have babies between 1991 and 2005, according to BioNews. During this period, the HFEA informs us that the total of live babies born through IVF procedures was 109,469.)