Dr. Hilgers: Complete Transcript
Q: How did the birth control pill’s introduction in 1960 foster a cultural revolution that has eroded sexual morality and led to today’s culture of death?
Well, the oral contraceptive of course made getting pregnant with an act of intercourse a rarity. It was the first time that they had developed a treatment that would treat healthy people, but actually create a dysfunction, in this case, an ovulatory dysfunction. And so because the woman wasn’t ovulating, she wouldn’t get pregnant.
The doctors then used that as a tool to be able to prescribe contraception to anybody, literally. And when you remove the life component of an act of intercourse, then you have a situation that we’re deeply into at this point, a very promiscuous type of sexuality.
And it’s created enormous problems. I’m just finishing writing a book called “Blinders.” The book traces the downstream impact of contraception, abortion and in-vitro fertilization and it’s incredible what’s happened. It’s everything from out-of-wedlock pregnancies to increased divorce rates to maltreatment of women. There’s a whole list of things that have just fallen like a set of dominoes. And it all started with a couple of things – one, birth control pills. The other part of it was the Hugh Hefner philosophy, and the Helen Gurley Brown philosophy; the first one, sex without love, the other, sex without kids. It just proliferated.
And now we’re suffering because of a lot of the cultural things we see right now, and people are wondering, “Why is this happening or why is that happening?” It’s because of all of this stuff that’s been going on for over 60 years.
Well, as an interesting side issue, perhaps, to “Humanae Vitae,” one of the reasons that many theologians dissented from it is because Paul VI predicted – forecast if you will – the destruction of the family, increased divorce rates, the effects on children and so forth.
The people who dissented said that the pope shouldn’t have said those things. He has no evidence that will be the case. And of course, it might be something called insight that somebody like a pope might have after hearing lots of confessions. I would think he’d have a little bit of an idea what might happen.
But dissidents rejected that, saying he had no evidence. In fact, that’s one of the reasons that I’ve done this book called “Blinders,” because this is an issue that’s been of interest to me for many, many years. When I wrote the textbook on NaProTechnology, the first chapter dealt with the unhealthy trends for the family and for women and for children. And that had been well documented. And so I've taken the information from that and I’ve added to it to bring it up to date with all of the documentation that is available through mostly national and government recording services that have looked at the data on this.
Everything that Paul VI said was correct, but the theologians spoke so much against it. In fact, the dissenting theologians in 1968 are in a grave way at fault for what’s happened. Because they took people away from the main message of “Humanae Vitae,” which is really a connection between love and life. And everybody quoted the theologians instead of Pope Paul VI. A lot of priests got in to this, a lot of bishops got into this. So there became something we called dial-a-priest, where whatever opinion you wanted on this you could dial your local priest and they'd give it you. Or at least your selected priest.
Well, he talked about how women would not be respected and would be used more as tools than anything else. He talked about the effects on marriage and family in terms of divorce rates and that sort of thing.
And in a way, his predictions were somewhat general. They were probably three or four of them that were in Humana Vitae but they were broad enough to be able to take a look at it from a lot of different points of view.
The divorce rate has been out of sight for a long time. The effect it has on children is well known. The out-of-wedlock birth rate, the birth rate to women who are not married, is now 45 percent of all births in the United States. When the birth control pill came out it was 5 percent. So it’s up by a factor of nine. And it’s gone up every year just about since 1960.
You can go into other areas like crime rates and juveniles being referred to court cases and so forth. Along with maltreatment of women and children, of course, you’ve got to put abortion in there because even to this day, they say we need more and more contraception to prevent abortion. But all the data we have says that contraception leads to abortion. And yet people still take the position that contraception avoids abortion. It’s not the case.
No, it’s much more related to the promiscuity that goes with contraception. With contraceptives, you have to take them if they’re going to be effective. There’s a study, kind of a unique study, that was published a few years ago, with a group of teenagers where they wanted to find out if they text them on a daily basis on their cell phones, their smart phones, with reminders not forget to take their birth control pill. And then they had a group that they didn’t do that with. And they compared the results of whether they took the pill or did not take the pill and daily text reminders, which you’d think would fall right in line with the millennial kind of an idea, was of absolutely no value.
And, there are other factors involved. And I suppose we don't totally understand all those. But the bottom line is if you're going to use a condom and you don't use it, you run the risk of getting pregnant or, in the case of the AIDS crisis, you run the risk of getting HIV. Not because you're using it so much as because you don't use it periodically. Or in the case of condoms, the things break and you have all sorts of other things happening with it.
But, the promiscuous sexuality that came as a result of what was happening in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and then continued onward from there, is mainly what leads to the pregnancies. And then of course, they like to call them unwanted pregnancies and those pregnancies are without any value and so they terminate them with abortion.
Well, Pope Paul VI in “Humanae Vitae,” on the one hand, condemned contraception, but on the other hand, suggested that there were means of family planning which were responsible and built into the way that the body of a woman and the body of a man work. Now, he wasn’t specific about that. He might have used the natural rhythms or something along that line. But at the end of the encyclical letter, he, and this is the only part of the encyclical that was not dissented from, that part three was the pastoral directive. And in the pastoral directives section of the encyclical he addressed seven different groups. This included priests and bishops, and included government. He also included men of science and physicians and health care professionals.
I was a fourth year medical student when it came out, and I got a copy of it and read it. I actually thought the church probably was going to change its position from the things that I had been reading. But once I read “Humanae Vitae,” I realized that it was saying things that I had not heard before and certainly wasn’t in any of the national news media.
So, when I found that he challenged young people, like myself at the time, to get involved in this, I became involved as a fourth year medical student, did my first research project. We’ve developed the Pope Paul VI Institute because of those pastoral directives. That was established in 1985 in Omaha. And we’ve had patients from every state in the union come to visit us. We’ve had patients from five continents come to visit us.
We’ve trained several thousand teachers of the Creighton Model Fertility Care System – hundreds and hundreds of doctors. We have a fellowship program which is training young obstetrician-gynecologists in all the medical and surgical aspects of NaProTechnology, which incidentally stands for Natural Procreative Technology, which is the first and only women's health science if you will, that's completely consistent with Catholic teaching. And that includes, of course, Humana Vitae. The stimulus for me, personally, was Humana Vitae.
Paul VI died on August 6, 1978, and that’s when my wife and I literally turned to each other and said, we need to establish the Pope Paul VI Institute for the study of human reproduction so that the work that he asked to be done could continue to go forward. Unfortunately, not much publicity has been given to this effort. And I’ll take some of the blame for that because I’ve been very busy being in a full-time practicing position, while at the same time doing a lot of research, taking a lot of time and effort to put this all together, to perfect it.
And so, I wasn’t out there, I’m not a natural person for the marketing of this sort of thing. But in spite of that, we’ve had a number of people who’ve benefited from it in a really big way. Our success rates for infertility patients, for example, are better than the in-vitro fertilization programs.
There’s a whole lot of other medical issues that, because of our understanding of the natural phases of fertility and infertility, we’re able to treat in ways that the typical obstetrician- gynecologist is not able to at the present time. They would be if they would be interested in the natural part of it, but they’re not. They’ve all been raised and trained in contraception, abortion, sterilization and in-vitro fertilization, so this is really radical to them, which it really isn’t. But that’s the way they approach it.
Q: Talk a little more about what you and your clinic have developed in terms of the Creighton Model FertilityCare System as a healthy family planning alternative to artificial contraception. How did this come about and what does it involve?
In 1976, when I was a medical student, of course I had to go off and get through the training and I chose to do that in obstetrics and gynecology. So my first job after that was on the full- time faculty at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. I was there for about three-and-a-half years. And we started research in 1976. And that program, which we started in Saint Louis, was then moved to Omaha, where I was on the full-time faculty at Creighton University School of Medicine for eight years. And I was a fully tenured associate professor when I left the University and established the Pope Paul VI Institute.
So we started as an approach that was going to take a look at one of the newer methods of natural family planning. And we thought that we needed to have somebody do an independent evaluation of this. And so that’s what we were doing and we found, we got a government grant from the National Institutes of Health to study hormonal correlations to this timing of the mucous cycle and fertility cycle and we got that published in peer reviewed medical journals.
But we also did something else which at the time, I wasn’t one way or another about, but I began to realize more in recent days, that is probably one of the biggest discoveries in all of natural family planning but it won't probably ever get that sort of credibility. And that is, we developed a universal language for the observations that the women make when they monitor their fertility.
And this includes mucous patterns, the dry patterns and so forth, but a very simple, easy way of being able to teach them how to do this. That was discovered literally in the first two years of our research. That then led to being able to compare one cycle to another in the same woman and one cycle from one woman, to a cycle that might be somewhat different in another woman, but then you can compare the different components of their charting and then also the underlying factors. We began to look for the underlying or the root causes of problems. Conditions like endometrioses, polycystic ovaries, how they get adhesion or scar tissue. That sort of thing.
And then we looked at ovulation. At the Pope Paul VI Institute, we have studied more women with spontaneous ovulations by examining on a daily basis their ovaries as they approach ovulation. We've had at least 3,000 cycles, which is way beyond any place in the world that that has actually been done. And that led us to discover several ovulation defects that were particularly a problem in women who had infertility problems or even repetitive miscarriages. And these all helped our ability to diagnose certain things.
In the Institutes of Health, we have an advanced level reproductive hormone laboratory where we can measure almost any reproductive hormone. And because these women are charting their cycles, we can target the cycle to the appropriate time where we get meaningful results.
An example of that would be the hormone progesterone, which is produced only after ovulation. So, if you draw that like most people do, like day 21 of the cycle, guessing that that's going to be at the right time, a relatively high percentage of the time, it won't be at the right time. So, these women know when they’re fertile, they know when the peak of their fertility is and after that they can draw the progesterone levels which is after ovulation in a way that gives really meaningful and diagnostic information about the function of the ovary during that important time which is what is supportive of pregnancy.
So, those are really just a few things. I’ve written over 230 papers and chapters in books that detail all of this. We also have a kind of lay book out there, incidentally, called “The NaProTechnology Revolution,” which people can order from Amazon. Written in a lay language people can understand, it’s about 300 pages, that gets you into all the different conditions that can be treated.
And finally, in 1998, we published a huge effectiveness study of the Creighton model system for avoiding pregnancy and that was published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine. Over 800 couples and 15,000 cycles were involved in that study at five different centers. And it showed very, very high success rates 99.6 percent method effective and 96.8 percent use effective to avoid pregnancy.
So those are very competitive with birth control pills and other things along the line.
Q: Regarding the treatment of infertility, talk about the success rate there and how that compares to in vitro fertilization techniques.
Well, in vitro fertilization is measured on a cycle-by-cycle basis because you can only really count its success in the cycle that is used. And the overall average of cycles that are used by any given patient in IVF is 1.8. So, it’s less than two cycles. So overall, the success rate is about 30 percent of the first cycle and that might even be a little high. And maybe 35 percent by the second cycle and you don't add those together; that’s a cumulative percentage.
Whereas with the Creighton model and NaProTechnology, we find out what the underlying hormonal issues are and what the underlying ovulatory issues are, what the underlying organic issues are, like endometriosis, pelvic adhesions, tubal obstructions.
And we’ve just completed a study in which we looked at two different groups of people. One is the group that comes to the institute from all over the country, and these are people who’ve been to multiple doctors, they’re a little bit older and they have been through multiple surgeries often times. And so it’s a much more difficult or complex group. But we have about a 50 percent pregnancy rate per woman. But to me it’s a more meaningful statistic because you can actually tell an individual woman what her percentage will be.
And then the other group was a group that hadn’t been trying for as long, a little over two years, which meets certainly the definition of infertility. And were younger and haven’t had all of these interventions from all the doctors. And that group has about a 70 percent pregnancy rate.
So, it’s a statistically improved success rate if you look at the patients, and basically the sooner they get in for a good evaluation and a good treatment program, the higher their success will be.
So right now, because of IVF, there’s a couple of things, one is the success rates are a lot lower, just by nature of the technology. Back in 1978 when it first came out, it was about 25 percent successful. Now it's about 30 percent successful, so it hasn’t changed much at all, even though the medical journals are filled with articles on IVF and different ways to do it. But the improvement with the Creighton model and NaProTechnology is continually improved over that last, about 25 years now. And we've made a lot of progress with that, and eventually, if we're ever going to have a cure to infertility, it’ll be because of the NaProTechnology approach because we look for the underlying causes, the root causes of the infertility. Infertility is only a symptom of an underlying disease or diseases.
And they’re fairly complex but they’re not that complex. And you can really make a lot of headway if you just know how to go about doing it.
Q. Let’s return to the issue of artificial contraception for a moment. How does something like the pill negatively affect women's health?
Well, first of all, you have to look at it this way – if a woman comes in, she’s having normal cycles, she’s not having any particular problems and all she wants is the birth control pill so she won’t get pregnant, you’re taking a normal and a healthy woman and getting her a hormone which shuts off her fertility. Now fertility is not a disease. Fertility is a normal occurrence, it’s something that’s cyclic usually and it has a lot of normal components. She’ll take birth control pills and it shuts it all off.
And so you’ve created a disease of its own. It’s an independent disease of hormonal dysfunction, and all by itself, it is problematic. Now, most people don't get too wound up about that, which is kind of unfortunate, because it is actually a pretty serious consideration because then you also have to look at other long-term and short-term issues.
For example, the risk of breast cancer in the United States today is about nine times what it was 30 years ago. And we’re literally living in an epidemic of breast cancer – it’s a very serious problem. And a lot of it’s due to the very widespread use of oral contraceptives.
Now, the doctors who promote the pill take a little different approach to this, for example, and they say, well, the risk of breast cancer is elevated but it’s still a very small risk. And to a certain extent, what they say is correct. However, if you’re the woman who has the breast cancer, a small risk doesn't cut it for an explanation. It’s a very real problem. And it can be a very devastating problem. And it kills people. The young women who die at age 40 or 45 or 50 years of age, the women we all have heard about, people having serious problems with breast cancer, are those women who've been on birth control pills or certainly a great deal of them.
So, it’s not universal but it is multiple, multiple, multiple studies that support this.
You’ve also got increased risk of sexually transmitted disease related to multiple sexual partners, the transmission of human papilloma virus for example, which is a precursor to the development of cervical cancer, which has been on the increase. The list goes on and on and on. And genital herpes is more common, which is a devastating condition if you're the baby being born through a birth canal that has herpes infection.
Well, the divorce rate, for example, in 1960 was about 5 or 10 percent. Thirty years later, it was up to 50 percent. And now, what’s referred to as the divorce-to-marriage ratio, that is the percentage of couples who get divorced versus those who are married. But the marriage rate’s gone down too, which is another side effect, because now the big thing is cohabitation.
There are just so many issues that go with these relatively uncommitted relationships that are only compounded when they start having babies. And so, these are just factors that people don't like to look at. They like to rationalize their way around it. And it’s sad, because its impact is enormous – millions and millions of people in this country adversely affected.
Well, Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter, “Evangelium Vitae,” which is “The Gospel of Life.” In about six or seven places there, he called upon the development of centers of excellence for the further evaluation and development of the natural methods of family planning. In addition, he called for the training and availability of more and more people who can teach these methods effectively and with competence.
But, in both of these areas, the church has not been very active. There are individual archbishops and cardinals who are very supportive, but don’t get down to the nitty gritty where it’s like, we need more services available. We need more, not only availability of those services, but also the marketing. I mentioned earlier, the ability to get the word out to the public that these are available, that they’re very effective and can be very helpful to one’s marriage.
There was a recent study just published that’s not the most perfect study of all, but it shows that there was a significant decrease in the divorce rate among couples using a natural method versus those using artificial methods.
And these are all things that can be met effectively with centers of excellence and programs that actually deliver these services to these couples and then, also have the opportunity to market them in a way that people can know that they're available and also understand their effectiveness.
Just one final comment – we’re lucky in Omaha, because we’ve worked with three archbishops since we’ve been here. They’ve all been very supportive of our work and I’m really, really grateful for that. But that’s not the case every place. There’s a lot of work to be done to develop and expand the availability of these services for the couples who need them. There’s been some movement in that direction in the last five or 10 years. But there’s still a lot more work that needs to be done.
If you think about Planned Parenthood, they have many thousands of clinics around the United States and they also get $500 million a year from the federal government. While the natural methods, we have 370 fertility care centers throughout the United States where the Creighton model system is provided and also they often are associated with one of our doctors who’s been trained in at least basic NaProTechnology. But that’s not enough to compete with Planned Parenthood or to compete with the doctors who are prescribing birth control pills. We need services that are a lot more effective. We have the methodologies right now, we just have to make them more available to people so that they can get quality instruction and quality exposure to these things.