Summary of today’s show: Infertility is becoming an increasingly common problem in the 21st century and more and more women are being pushed to artificial reproductive technologies like in vitro fertilization by their doctors, without regard to the lack of effectiveness and the physical, psychological, sociological, financial, and especially spiritual costs. Katie Elrod joins Scot Landry to talk about the Wild West of unregulated IVF and the moral and effective alternative in Natural Procreative Technologies, which respect human dignity and treats the underlying pathologies afflicting women instead of steering them immediately to very lucrative and dangerous IVF procedures.
Listen to the show:
Today’s host(s): Scot Landry
Today’s guest(s): Katie Elrod
Links from today’s show:
- “Faithfully Yours” 2012 Natural Family Planning Awareness Week
- Archdiocese of Boston’s Natural Family Planning Office
- FertilityCare Centers of America
- Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction
- Katie Elrod on CatholicTV’s “The Future Depends on Love”
Today’s topics: Infertility, Natural Family Planning, and NaPro Technology
1st segment: This week, July 22–28, the USCCB is asking all Catholic dioceses, parishes and families to mark National Family Planning Awareness Week. So as part of that effort, we will be discussing NFP, NaPro Technology and Infertility here on The Good Catholic Life today.
Because of the subject matter, I wanted to note up front that this content might not be suitable for young kids. Parents will always know what age is appropriate but I did want to give a heads up if you have kids in the car or kitchen listening with you that this show might be best to catch later on our podcast or via TheGoodCatholicLife.com.
“Faithfully Yours" is the theme of this Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, which is a national educational campaign of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) on the Catholic teaching on married love and the gift of human life. The annual campaign, which began in 2002, promotes awareness of Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods.
Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the USCCB Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth said: “NFP Awareness Week is an opportunity for married couples and Catholics everywhere to better understand and embrace the Church’s uniquely positive and liberating message on the truth of married love.“ ”The theme for 2012, ‘Faithfully Yours,’ highlights the beauty of how husbands and wives are called to live out their total dedication to one another."
Our guest today to discuss NFP, a particular type of NFP called Napro Technology and Infertility is Katie Elrod. Katie is a “double-eagle” graduating from Boston College with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Philosophy from Boston College. She has been a humanities teacher and administrator at independent schools for over fifteen years, and has taught in the Perspectives Program at Boston College. Elrod has spoken on natural fertility treatment at MIT, Boston College, Notre Dame University and at various Catholic women’s conferences. She is also the author of “Chapter 6” in the acclaimed book “Women, Sex and the Church” that came out in 2010. Chapter 6 is entitled “The Church’s Best Kept Secret: Church Teaching on Infertility Treatment.” She and her husband Kevin live outside of Boston with their son, T.J.
2nd segment: Scot welcomed Katie to the show. He noted that Katie is a teacher at Montrose School in Medfield. Katie became interested in the topic of infertility because of her own infertility. She and her husband pursued various avenues, including in vitro fertilization. She eventually found a doctor through the Archdiocese who specializes in National Procreative Technology. Katie said 35% of women are infertile and the rates are increasing. The rates for men are also increasing and they think because of environmental concerns. Men born in the 1970s have 25% fewer sperm than men born in the 1950s.
Katie said she learned that infertility is not a disease in itself but is a symptom of other diseases and disorders. Ovulation disorder is the cause of 40%. It’s when the female endocrine system doesn’t produce enough of the hormones to allow the embryo to implant.
Scot asked the definition of infertility. Katie said the technical term is that you are unable to deliver a baby. Some women are able to conceive but not able to carry to term. But infertility is an umbrella term and most women who are infertile have two or more pathologies going on.
Scot said sexually transmitted diseases are often at the root of infertility. Katie said she was horrified to find out how common it is. The CDC estimates that there are 19 million new diagnoses of STDs every year in the US. Some of the most common forms can go unnoticed, but they cause scar tissue that prevents the egg from moving into the fallopian tube. STDs cause at least 24,000 each year in the US to become infertile. Sometimes it’s reversible, but it depends on how long it goes untreated.
Scot said he understands that when a woman goes to a doctor with trouble to conceive, the doctors don’t often properly diagnose. Katie said 25% of women have unexplained fertility, meaning the doctor doesn’t find out what’s wrong. But it doesn’t have to be although it requires a lot of time, patience, and bloodwork. Scot said instead they’re often just pushed toward in vitro fertilization and assisted reproductive technologies. Katie said it’s a multi billion dollar business with a lot of money and little regulation. It gives the doctor a lot of control. They fertilize eggs in a lab and then implant them in the woman’s womb.
Scot asked Katie to explain the Church’s teaching on this. Katie said there is lots of reasons why it’s bad for women, not just the morality of it. Katie said people say it’s not fair to prevent women from having IVF. It’s not just because embryos are discarded. Even if no extra embryos were created, it would still be a violation of human dignity. This procedure trikes at the core of the meaning of marriage and the marital act. The act in which designed human beings to be conceived is sacred because it mirrors the way God loves. God is love. He does not have love or contain love. He is love itself. Love is giving and to be in communion with others. This is why God is three persons. God is his own family. God’s children are created to love as God does. The highest expression of this love is in the marital act between husband and wife. In their bond they have the potential to be co-creators of a new life with God.
Scot said Cardinal Seán often says the Church is seen as the Church of No, but the beauty of the Theology of the Body is that we are a Church of Yes, saying yes to God as part of his plan for us and all of humanity. Katie said saying yes rot life is saying yes to love.
Scot said Katie describes IVF as the Wild West of medicine, an industry growing quickly and is very unregulated. It’s something that attempts to create human life and control fertility, but is unregulated. Katie said it’s bad medicine because it’s unregulated, bad for the husband, wife and the child. In 1982, clinics were requested to report their data to the CDC, but it’s voluntary. But no one checks the data. Because it’s seen as a women’s issue, this is why it’s unregulated.
Scot said women of all ages are getting pushed to IVF, not just women getting married in later life. Katie said 60% of women using IVF are over 35, even though the success rates drop dramatically after 35 to 20% and all the way down to 5% after 40. The CDC is not tracking who’s using IVF, their age, their relationships, etc.
Katie said if a woman is suffering some kind of pathology, she needs to be treated for it regardless of whether she goes for IVF. If the womb isn’t healthy it’s not good for the baby or the woman. Instead once you restore the woman to health, then let’s try to conceive in a natural way to respect the dignity of a woman.
Scot said part of the reason there’s a better way is because there are risks to women. Katie said the woman goes through an invasive procedure that will only increase the physical costs. She takes a drug to stimulate her ovaries so she can produce 5 to 10 eggs in one cycle, as opposed to one per cycle. As they take Lupron, the side-effects include failure of the ovary which can result in infertility or even death. The FDA has over 6,000 complaints about the drug, but no investigation has been done. Just this year, a Netherlands study found that IVF doubles the chance of ovarian cancer.
Katie said there is a movement to discourage young women from taking these drugs to sell their eggs because of the risk they’re taking.
There is also a physical cost for the babies. Katie said a 2002 study concluded that IVF babies have twice the risk of major birth defects. The chance of miscarriage is 7 times higher. The movement in IVF has been to reduce the number of babies in the womb to two so there’s a desire to have fewer children at a time. But even single babies have increased risk of prematurity and low birth weight. Scot said there’s a practice of selective reduction in which doctors abort some of the babies that have been conceived. Katie said this happens in all assisted artificial reproductive technologies. Scot asked listeners to imagine how this couple that’s been struggling to conceive a child and now they’re being asked to abort their children. It’s psychologically damaging.
Katie said in the New York Times there was an article about a new trend in IVF in which women who are pregnant with twins voluntarily go in and ask to have one of her children aborted in order to give the other a better chance to survive the pregnancy or even to have a better quality of life or more resources after birth.
“Things would have been different if we were 15 years younger or if we hadn’t had children already or if we were more financially secure,” she said later. “If I had conceived these twins naturally, I wouldn’t have reduced this pregnancy, because you feel like if there’s a natural order, then you don’t want to disturb it. But we created this child in such an artificial manner — in a test tube, choosing an egg donor, having the embryo placed in me — and somehow, making a decision about how many to carry seemed to be just another choice. The pregnancy was all so consumerish to begin with, and this became yet another thing we could control.”
It shows why the Church is opposed to this because we’ve dehumanized the children and turned this beautiful miracle into a base transaction.
3rd segment: Katie said her husband asked her to call the archdiocese to find out if there’s a morally acceptable choice for treating infertility. But first, she wanted to talk about the Catholic principles surrounding fertility.
There are three guiding principles in the Vatican instruction Dignatitis personae:
- The Church believes every human being has the right to live. The Church has great concern for the half-million embryos in cryogenic storage.
- The spouses only have the right to become biological mother and biological father through each other. This relates to the increase in the use of donor eggs or donor sperm or surrogacy.The sexual act is a sacred act to create new life. This new life has a right to know his or her parents.
- The Church believes each child has the right to be conceived in the self-giving act of his parents. Men and women don’t have a right to be parents. They have a right to the marital act, but not a right to a child ataxy cost. No person has a claim on the right to the life of another. Otherwise that person would have their life subjugated to the lives of others.
Scot asked how someone would feel as an adult finding out they were produced this way when there was a better way. Katie said we’re starting to get data on children conceived through anonymous sperm donors. The majority of these children say they would not do the same thing to their own children and they do think half of their identity comes through their biological father. So when a child born of an IVF, they are created through pornography and masturbation. They were created by an anonymous person in a lab in a petri dish and then implanted. And you were there with your brothers and sisters who were selectively reduced.
Natural family planning is an umbrella term for methods to conceive or avoid conception through observation of natural signs in a woman’s ovulation cycle. It requires communication among a couple and fertility is a shared obligation.
Katie and her husband connected with Dr. Paul Carpentier who recommended a form of NFP called the Creighton Model. It’s a kind of NFP that is standardized observation and charting of biological markers. It’s used by millions of people around the world. It was standardized by a doctor at Creighton University in Nebraska. Dr. Hilgers used NFP to help treat infertility. This subset of NFP is called Natural Procreative Technologies (NaPro Technology). It’s primary goal is to restore a woman’s reproductive health. It properly diagnoses the underlying pathologies. The woman is a full participant by charting her bio-markers and often sees before the doctor does what is wrong. It also treats all kinds of reproductive health issues, including postpartum depression and PMS. Once it is properly diagnosed, the treatment usually happens without a lot of invasive procedures. Hilgers trains other doctors in the delicate forms of laparascopy to fix endometriosis.
Scot said the difference is taking time and care to treat the whole person versus ignoring the underlying problems to create the baby in the fastest way possible. NaPro is about healing the woman. It respects the woman’s biological systems.
Katie said NaPro’s effective to IVF is very high. IVF success ranges from 35% at the highest down to 10% depending on age. A study of NaPro done in 2003 looked at a pool of women who have already had low success with IVF and the result was a 50% live birth rate. AMong the women who didn’t need surgery there was a 70% live birth rate.
More and more medical students are interested in learning NaPro, even if they’re not motivated by the moral teaching, but because it’s good medicine.
Katie said in the beginning she wish she’d been practicing NFP in the Creighton model that could have revealed the problems. She also wants to say to young women not to wait if they think something is wrong. Doctors will often tell them just ti wait, that they’ll get pregnancy eventually. Instead, find a NaPro practitioner and start treatment right away.
The book and the chapter Katie wrote in it is the best resource on these fertility treatments.
To women who think maybe it’s not God’s plan for them to have children, Katie said NaPro is not 100% effective. We don’t know what God’s plan is for each couple. All we can do is return women to health. A life without children by a couple who is open to life regardless is a great witness to the world which says we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. The whole purpose of the Church’s understanding of life-giving love is that we have to love. If we’re not giving love in having children, how can we love in other ways?