Why are Catholic doctors, especially obstetricians-gynecologists, so hesitant to give their backing to natural family planning? I understand that only one percent of Catholic ob/gyns refuse to prescribe contraception and to do sterilizations. That means, does it not, that the others are contributing to the problem of so many Catholic women using the Pill, and all the moral harm that results from that?
Thanks for your answer,
You are correct in pointing to the fact that so few Catholic medical doctors promote NFP, and prescribe contraceptives instead. Why is this? There are many reasons. Let me provide just a few.
Most doctors were never exposed to the merits of NFP when they went through medical school. The prevailing attitude is that NFP does not work, and that it is equivalent to the rhythm method. But this means that the med schools have not keep up with all the developments in refining the effectiveness of NFP. Doctors at the Pope Paul VI Institute at Creighton University, for one example, have advanced the science of NFP to the extent now that NFP can be used not only to effectively space pregnancies, but to overcome infertility. Naprotechnology (natural procreative technology) is three times more effective than standard treatments for infertility, less expensive, and without the dangers of hyper ovulation, in vitro fertilization, embryo transfer, and placing many embryos in the mother’s womb. Naprotechnology eliminates frozen embryo banks, where in this country alone there are 400,000 frozen embryos.
Catholic ob/gyns and family practice doctors have told me that they experienced real prejudice against NFP in their training. Some were told that, if they could not in conscience prescribe contraception, then there was no place for them in the school. Many medical students do not have strong enough convictions about their faith to resist this kind of pressure. They reason, if the profession feels this way about NFP, who am I to think otherwise?
Many medical students were never exposed to good courses in Catholic medical ethics. Thus, they do not understand morally why contraception is so harmful, and medically why NFP is so effective and beneficial. This means, of course, that Catholic colleges and universities that do not offer reputable courses in ethics have failed both the Church and people they serve.
Still another consideration is the financial one. There is no money to be made in promoting NFP. In the case of the Pill, a doctor can routinely prescribe a monthly prescription, and collect his fee. But with NFP there is the initial teaching a couple in their own physiology, helping them to understand their sexuality, and encouraging them to acquire self-possession and self-mastery. A normal course in NFP requires usually 4-6 sessions. Once the couple masters the method, then there are no further expenses. NFP is very good medicine, but bad for business. However, there are other compensations. NFP couples usually seek out totally pro-life doctors for all their medical needs. Many pro-life doctors have built up a very good cliental of couples who seek out their services.
A final consideration is the faith one. Many Catholic doctors have a split, or double, conscience. They use one conscience at Sunday Mass, and another one in their profession. They have not assimilated their faith into their profession. They take all their medical guidance from academia, which stresses expedience instead of morality. This has lead, in many instances, to making the customer always right. Medicine today is here to serve the wishes of the customer-patient. Doctors are not to “impose” their principles, or values, upon their customer-patients. This may provide good income, but it is not good medicine.
What is the solution? Catholic doctors need to discover good expositions of medical ethics. I recommend Dr. William E. May’s Catholic Bioethics and the Gift of Human Life (Our Sunday Visitor Press, Huntington, IN: 2000). Then they must assume their role, their unique vocation, in the new evangelization of the Gospel of Life
Fr. Matthew Habiger OSB