The day that changed the world

03 Sep 2008

By The Record

July 26, 1968 was a monumental day in the history of mankind and the Catholic Church, but especially for one young doctor who would help others understand what it is to truly live as a sexual human being.

Amanda Lamont


Dr Hilgers meets John Paul II.

On that day – the feast of St James the Apostle – Pope Paul VI released his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae on the regulation of birth in response to the introduction of the Pill. It would have seismic repercussions.
In doing so, Paul VI called “men of science” and “physicians and health care professionals” to “persevere in promoting on every occasion the discovery of solutions inspired by faith and right reason.”
This sparked a fire in the young Dr Thomas Hilgers, who, like Paul VI, recognised the imbalance between theological teachings and the availability of reliable and morally acceptable methods of family planning.
It was clear, as Paul VI said, that scientific advances in the natural means for the regulation of human fertility were needed if couples were to live out these teachings with success and, importantly, joy.
Dr Hilgers responded to this call. He began research in December 1968 as a medical student, and after his residency working in hospitals completing the final stages of training as a gynecologist and obstetrician, he established research centres at St Louis University and Creighton University Schools of Medicine.
To carry on this research, he and his wife Sue founded the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska – a decision they made on the day of Pope Paul VI’s death, August 6, 1978. The Institute opened on September 1, 1985.
Their work would have repercussions throughout the world, even to Catholics and non-Christians alike in places as far away as Perth.
The work they did, including the standardising of charting a couple carried out during the woman’s cycle, allowed vast amounts of research to be gathered into what actually happens in fertility, and why, leading to a whole new area of medical treatment known as NaPro Technology.
The catch-cry of the website is “Unleashing the power in a woman’s cycle”.
Graduates of the Paul VI institute, the international hub of NaPro Technology, are constantly amazed by the “intrinsically evangelical” power of the technology when working with every-day couples.
One such graduate, Dr Amanda Lamont, works in Perth and has found that couples who approach her FertilityCare office for help with the woman’s health issues often end up using natural family planning, even though this is not what they originally intended.
“They see the beauty of it and the benefits for their health and relationships,” she says.
Seventy per cent of clients who seek the help of her clinic have trouble conceiving.
The Creighton Model FertilityCare charting process pioneered by Dr Hilgers and his associates helps them conceive by teaching them about their bodies, how to monitor fertility and educating them about the medical treatments they use. Every woman uses the same terminology to describe what they’re seeing, so Hilgers and his team know what’s normal and what’s not.
“The work of NaPro Technology is the fruit of Humanae Vitae,” she told The Record.
Dr Lamont said she uses an acronym in her work that embraces some of the intrinsic ways in which couples can learn to be fully human
through their intimacy.
“SPICE is the acronym we use to label some of the areas in which we can express our sexuality as male and female – Spiritual, Physical, Intellectual, Creative and Emotional – though there are others,” she says.
Meanwhile, the NaPro Technology used to assist couples experiencing infertility has a high success rate in Perth of approximately 80 per cent, depending on the causes of the fertility problems they experience.
Internationally, the success rate is estimated at between 40 to 60 per cent.
“We encourage people, particularly in marriage, to explore how they can learn to love each other on all those levels – though they’re just some facets of what it means to truly live as a human being,” she said.
“In that way, we’re sexual in everything we do; we communicate our sexuality in so many ways, and understanding that can be very enriching for marriages in improving intimacy in all areas of a couple’s relationship.”
“Single women too come for help with women’s health, and we use the same categories where they discover what it means to be truly feminine; how we can affirm and enrich them to become more fully human on an individual level as well as those who are married within their relationships,” she said.
The evangelical effect, she says, is up to us as Catholics to educate ourselves so that we can answer questions whenever they arise.
“How it impacts beyond our circle is up to us,” she says.
“It’s what we do with that gift of understanding that we can help people understand this. That’s the only way the wider Church is going to experience this.
“The non-Catholics don’t experience it theologically, but practically in their relationships and in charting during the NFP process they’ve told us that the benefits have been enormous.
“They tell us, ‘even if we don’t fall pregnant we’re so glad we’ve taken this’.”
Amanda, a former General Practitioner herself, says GPs are so ingrained in their training that they must teach about contraceptives, that they are the “only option to prevent pregnancies, but so many people are having trouble conceiving, people are just being given pills and then they can’t fall pregnant”.
“We need to not just teach Australian women about family planning but their own fertility, not just how to suppress it.”
For more information on the FertlityCare approach, call 08 9440 4530 or visit: