Infertility affects about 15 percent of the population in the industrialized world.
Resources and time that could have been used to prevent and treat infertility have been used instead to promote and perfect in vitro fertilization, a U.S. physician told a Vatican audience.
"Infertility is a symptom of an underlying condition," and too many physicians do not even attempt to find the cause and treat it; they simply recommend in vitro fertilization, said Dr. Thomas Hilgers.
Hilgers, director of the Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Neb., spoke at a recent workshop sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life to discuss the research on infertility.
According to the academy, infertility affects about 15 per cent of the population in the industrialized world and up to 30 per cent in some developing countries.
"We want to offer a contribution to try to reduce as much as possible this phenomenon, which makes it impossible for so many people to procreate a child and to satisfy their just desire for responsible parenthood," Bishop Ignacio Carrasco de Paula, academy president, told the Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano.
The Catholic Church teaches IVF is immoral, first because fertilization does not take place through the sexual union of a husband and wife, but also because of the number of fertilized embryos that usually are destroyed or frozen.
"Women go to the IVF clinic with an underlying disease and they walk away from these clinics with the same disease," Hilgers said.
Hilgers said his Natural Procreative Technology, presented at the conference, is the result of more than 35 years' work on treating the causes of infertility, including endometriosis, tubal adhesions and polycystic ovaries.
NaPro Technology includes diagnostic methods as well as pharmacological and surgical treatments aimed at allowing couples to conceive naturally.
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops' Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, said many people mistakenly believe that in the field of sexuality and fertility, the Catholic Church is against the use of advances in medicine and science.
"That's not it at all. It's about keeping the two essential meanings of sexuality - the unitive and procreative - together," he said.
Procreation "is more than just another bodily function. This is something with an inherent meaning and must be treated with respect and care."
"The treatments the physicians are speaking about here today - hormonal treatments, surgery, changing behaviours that can interfere with fertility - these are all things the Church can enthusiastically endorse."
Workshop speakers presented treatments and cures that are scientifically and medically valid, "but they have been neglected in the secular world in favour of a great deal of hype over in vitro fertilization," he said.
"I would hope that not just Catholic doctors, but doctors generally, would look again at the advances in treatments that really restore a woman's healthy fertility, which the Church is entirely in favour of," he said.