Hope for new life
Urszula Buglewicz talks to Maciej Barczentewicz, gynaecologist-obstetrician, the President of the Executive Board of the Foundation of John Paul II Institute for Marital Infertility Treatment, a member of the Commission on Bioethical Issues of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. He has been married for 22 years and has ten children.
Urszula Buglewicz: – Recently you have stirred up discussion about NaProTechnology. What kind of method is it and why have you got interested in it?
Maciej Barczentewicz, MD: – NaProTechnology: Natural Procreative Technology is a new field of science about women’s health. It can be defined as knowledge completely – medically, surgically and scientifically – focusing on collaboration with physiology, the natural mechanism of procreation. When these mechanisms function properly NaProTechnology collaborates with them. When they function improperly NaProTechnology collaborates with them to diagnose the problem and propose such a treatment that restores health, maintaining ecological balance in women’s organism and strengthening her procreative potential. This new science has been developed by the team of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction directed by Prof. Thomas Hilgers, a gynaecologist, in Omaha, the American State of Nebraska. The science is based on standardized gynaecological observation of CREIGHTON MODEL FertilityCareTM System. The system registers patterns of bleeding, cervical mucus and ‘the dried’ days. All these are biological markers, defining proper and improper functioning of women’s procreative organs. Prof. Thomas Hilgers is a member of the Pontifical Academy Pro Vita. He worked with John Paul II for 20 years (the Holy Father John Paul II sent 50,000 dollars every year for Hilgers’ research, altogether one million dollars). And as Prof. Hilgers describes himself he drew inspiration for his activities from the prophetic (which we can see now) encyclical of Pope Paul VI ‘Humanae vitae’. I got interested in NaProTechnology in 2002. In 2004, on the website www.popepaulvi.com I bought the textbook by Prof. Thomas Hilgers ‘The Medical & Surgical Practice of NaProTechnology.’ I saw this attitude towards medicine as what I have always wanted to do as a gynaecologist: respect for life from conception, respect for marriage as sacrament, for women as patients, respecting natural physiological mechanisms and that the approach has been based on the teaching of the Church. Last year I began the training in Galway, Ireland, led by Dr. Phil Boyle, according to the programme of the Pope Paul VI Institute. I participated in several conferences on NaProTechnology in Galway and Rome, recently there has been an important conference in Warsaw (21-22 March 2009). We hope to host Prof. Hilgers in September, at the end of the first training on NaProTechnology for Polish doctors and at the open conference at the Medical University in Lublin.
– How much effective is the NaProTechnology diagnosis and treatment of infertility? What speaks for choosing this method?
– First of all, NaProTechnology assumes a completely different physiological approach to treat infertility. NaProTechnology regards child as a gift, in contrary to recognising the right to a child, as the instruction ‘Donum vitae’ states, ‘A true and proper right to a child would be contrary to the child's dignity and nature. The child is not an object to which one has a right, nor can he be considered as an object of ownership: rather, a child is a gift, "the supreme gift" and the most gratuitous gift of marriage, and is a living testimony of the mutual giving of his parents…’ Depending on the reason for infertility (occlusion of the oviduct, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, anovulation), the age of patients and the period of treatment, NaProTechnology has helped 40-80% married couples who have come to us to conceive and bear children. NaProTechnology also helps in the cases of men’s infertility. Naturally, there are situations when help is impossible, e.g. genetic causes, some inherent defect of the procreative organs, lack of the oviducts and their occlusion that cannot be surgically treated, the lack of sperm in ejaculation. Many of the married couples who could not have children (77%) after treatment decided for adoption.
– Can NaProTechnology compete with in vitro fertilisation?
– Real effectiveness of laboratory fertilisation method, according to the reports of ESHRE (European Society of Human Reproduction Embryology published its latest report for 2004), which is characteristic, does not grow with time (the first child was born in vitro 31 years ago, and in Poland 25 years ago). The statistics clearly shows that for one birth in vitro 7-8 embryos are killed and in the process of embryo freezing even more embryos are killed. Numerous married couples undergoing in vitro fertilisation are unsuccessful. Phil Boyle, a doctor, having used NaProTechnology in Ireland for 11 years, who was a guest at the last conference in Warsaw, says that people come to his clinic not because they are Catholics but because of the effectiveness of his clinic. Over 800 children were born after the treatment in Galway. We can also see, so to say, some ‘anxiety’ of the Polish in vitro lobby. I have already read a few articles against NaProTechnology and a special website has been created. Despite the fact that our group is small, we have just begun proposing the NaPro method and its looks as a fight between Goliath and David, perhaps because of the present discussions on legalising in vitro fertilisation, its advocates want to depreciate the possibilities of diagnostics and treatment, which NaProTechnology gives. We are in a historically important moment, as Phil Boyle said, Poland can become a place of further development of NaProTechnology and the interest in the method is enormous: over 500 people, including ca. 100 medical doctors, came to the conference organised by the Group of Gynaecologists of the Catholic Association of Polish Doctors.
– It was your initiative to found the Foundation of John Paul II Institute for Marital Infertility Treatment? What is the range of its activities?
– First, Lord God overcame our own infertility: neither I nor my wife imagined to have so many children. When we wanted that, moved by the testimonies of married couples belonging to the Neocatechumenate Way, problems appeared: several miscarriages. In this very concrete situation, we, very young people, received a proposal to adopt a child. That same year a boy was born to us and then more children were born. We have experienced what blessing, as the Bible says, it is ‘to have children in your youth.’ Taking the heritage of the teaching of the Servant of God John Paul II, together with a few people, we initiated the Foundation of John Paul II Institute for Marital Infertility Treatment in Lublin towards the end of 2007. Responding to present day needs, to challenges encountered by families and to the dangers inherent in developments in biotechnology, we wish to assist marriages whose desire to have a child is frustrated by their inability to transmit life. We also wish to reach out to married couples who are fertile in the physical sense but who are not bearing children for a variety of other reasons. It is very important to us to ensure that marriages who are suffering in these ways do not hear exclusively of artificial insemination or in-vitro fertilization, and sometimes the Church’s opposition to these methods, without receiving any guidance on what to do. We are aware that the Creator has endowed us with the ability to discover – almost always - the underlying causes of infertility and often also ways of treating these. Infertility is an illness or a symptom of an illness and so it is not right to propose that couples use artificial methods of reproduction by resorting to laboratories producing children or zootechnology methods of reproduction such as artificial insemination since these are methods which treat nothing but only bypass underlying problems needing to be addressed and produce children in ways which violate human dignity. ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick’ (Luke 5:31) and we want to create an institute for them, which will be a place of diagnostics, treatment and education in NaProTechnology – for doctors and other allied medical professionals, instructors in the Creighton model, as well as for research concerning the reasons of infertility and methods of its treatment. The Foundation of John Paul II Institute for Marital Infertility Treatment was founded by notarised act in May 2008. Earlier we approached Archbishop Jozef Zycinski of Lublin to bless our research and works to create a centre for treating and preventing infertility, trainings in NaProTechnology and helping married couples build attitudes of openness to life. Soon, on 24 and 25 May 2008, together with Fr Slawomir Laskowski, working in Belarus, the Foundation organised the conference ‘Gynaecology and Obstetrics vs. the teaching of the Catholic Church’ in Homlu (Belarus). The conference speakers included Polish scientists (Rev. Prof. Bogumil Gacek from the Stefan Wyszynski University, psychologist and family counsellor Sr. Barbara Sajnok and gynaecologists Sr. Elzbieta Wozna and Maciej Barczentewicz). The conference was organised for ca. 40 people: Belarusian doctors, gynaecologists and other specialists. At the turn of November and December 2008 the Foundation initiated the first course on NaProTechnology and the Creighton Model in Lublin, conducted by Janina Filipczuk from Toronto and the following lecturers that collaborated with her: Dr. Teresa McKenna from Canada, Kathy Rivet and Phyllis White from the USA as well as Margaret Neale from Great Britain. There were 6 doctors and 20 instructors from all over Poland. The complete training will consist of three stages, embracing 13 months and a final practical and theoretical examination.
– Where can married couples who are interested in this method find information about the method as well as the doctors and instructors that use it?
– We have created the website: www.leczenie-nieplodnosci.pl, which we regularly update. Now you can read about NaProTechnology, find necessary links to other sources as well as a list of practicing doctors and instructors as well as those undergoing training.
– As a doctor, specialist gynaecologist, you openly admit that you ‘follow the teaching of the Catholic Church.’ What does it exactly mean and what are the consequences?
– Being a student I did not plan to specialise in gynaecology. It came to me as an invitation – message, that in contemporary world women as virgins, then wives and mothers, are attacked in their important social roles; that their dignity, calling, is negated by, e.g. contraception, abortion and methods of aided reproduction. One should choose gynaecology as profession in such a situation if we want, as laymen, participate in the mission of the Church. I have heard that and now I repeat it to others, e.g. students of medicine involved in the students’ pastoral centre. I can see miracles Lord God makes in my presence. I can accompany many suffering people in their very important and deep experiences. That concerns the conception and maturity of life as well as the end of life, including serious diseases, e.g. cancer. Sometimes I face misunderstanding and rejection when I refuse to prescribe contraceptives but always my ‘background’ are our children, the evidence that Lord God makes great miracles in our family, that God is powerful and gives me the courage to speak about that to others, to give hope which is difficult from the human perspective. I have had the privilege to accompany several families when it was diagnosed during pregnancy that their child did not have the skull cap and the central nervous system was undeveloped. When proposed to remove the child, which is in accordance with the Polish law, they consciously decided to carry the baby to full term and were very thankful for the gift of life. It also helped us, doctors and the whole hospital staff, to see the perspective of eternal life and sense expressed in suffering, in the cross of Jesus Christ and in his Resurrection. There are also many other facts, concrete interventions of Lord God, thanks to which I can see that it is worth living and doing what I do.