Conversion Story

And oldie, but a goodie.

Enjoy.

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What Do Priests Do All Day?

What do priests do all day?

After all, it only takes half an hour to say daily mass.

What do they do the rest of the time?

This entertaining video shows one day in the life of Father John Muir. Unlike the priests I know, he doesn’t live alone in the rectory and he isn’t assigned to a neighborhood parish. He is a priest in the Diocese of Phoenix and is currently the assistant director of the Newman Center at ASU.

A lot of the things he does, such as praying a morning prayer with the priest he lives with, are things we could do at home with our families. If you live alone, you could use an iPad or other electronic version for company, if you want. I pray parts of the Daily Office, in particular the night prayers, this way.

One thing Father Muir says: I figure if God wanted me to be a priest, God wanted me to be a priest.

That’s a good way to look at Christian life for any of us. God didn’t call perfect saints or pious sad sacks, He called you and me to the Christian life. (Unless, of course, you are a perfect saint or a pious sad sack.) I would guess that God loves us for our individual foibles the same way all parents love their children.

I hope you enjoy this glimpse into the daily life of a priest.

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Jesus First: Reflecting on Life with JP2

Blessed John Paul II is one of my favorite thinkers. He said quite a few things which I think are worth pondering. I’ve listed some of them below for your prayerful reflection.

Have a blessed Saturday.

 

Jesus first

Following Christ in Daily Life

“When freedom does not have a purpose, when it does not wish to know anything about the rule of law engraved in the hearts of men and women, when it does not listen to the voice of conscience, it turns against humanity and society.”

“True holiness does not mean a flight from the world; rather, it lies in the effort to incarnate the Gospel in everyday life, in the family, at school and at work, and in social and political involvement.”

“The evil of our times consists in the first place in a kind of degradation, indeed in a pulverization, of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.”

“Forgiveness is above all a personal choice, a decision of the heart to go against the natural instinct to pay back evil with evil.”

 

Elderly hands

The Value of Human Beings and Human Life

“The commandment you shall not kill even in its more positive aspects of respecting, loving, and promoting human life, is binding on every individual human being.” ~Evangelium Vitae-Gospel of Life Pope John Paul II-1995

“While it is true that the taking of life not yet born or in it’s final stages is sometimes marked by a mistaken sense of altruism and human compassion it cannot be denied that such a culture of death, taken as a whole, betrays a completely individualistic concept of freedom, which ends up by becoming the freedom of ” the strong” against the weak who have no choice but to submit”.~Evangelium Vitae

“Man’s life comes from God: it is his image and imprint, as sharing in his breath of life. God therefore is the sole Lord of this life: Man cannot do with it as he wills.” ~Evangelium Vitae

‘The Gospel of life must be proclaimed and human life defended in all places and all times.” ~Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics- National Conference of Catholic Bishops (United States) 1998

 

Family on beach

The Family and Same-Sex Marriage

“It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this [gay marriage] is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

“Marriage is an act of will that signifies and involves a mutual gift, which unites the spouses and binds them to their eventual souls, with whom they make up a sole family – a domestic church. ”

“The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish.”

“The family, as the fundamental and essential educating community, is the privileged means for transmitting the religious and cultural values which help the person to acquire his or her own identity. Founded on love and open to the gift of life, the family contains in itself the very future of society; its most special task is to contribute effectively to a future of peace.”

 

26weeks

Abortion

“The cemetery of the victims of human cruelty in our century is extended to include yet another vast cemetery, that of the unborn.”

“Finally, true freedom is not advanced in the per missive society, which confuses freedom with licence to do anything whatever and which in the name of freedom proclaims a kind of general amorality. It is a caricature of freedom to claim that people are free to organize their lives with no reference to moral values, and to say that society does not have to ensure the protection and advancement of ethical values. Such an attitude is destructive of freedom and peace. There are many examples of this mistaken idea of freedom, such as the elimination of human life by legalized or generally accepted abortion.”

“Abortion, euthanasia, human cloning, for example, risk reducing the human person to a mere object: life and death to order, as it were!”

 

Euthanasia

Euthanasia

“Euthanasia is a grave violation of the law of God, since it is the deliberate and morally unacceptable killing of a human person.” ~Evangelium Vitae, 1995

“Similarly, euthanasia and assisted suicide are never acceptable acts of mercy. They always gravely exploit the suffering and desperate, extinguishing life in the name of the “quality of life” itself.”

~Living the Gospel of Life: A Challenge to American Catholics-National Conference of Catholic Bishops(United States)-1998

“Those who advocate euthanasia have capitalized on people’s confusion, ambivalence and even fear about the use of modern life-prolonging technologies. Being able to choose the time and manner of one’s death, without regard to what is chosen is presented as the ultimate freedom.” ~Statement on Euthanasia- National Conference of Catholic Bishops (United States) 1991

“The sickness of a family member, friend or neighbor is a call to Christians to demonstrate true compassion, that gentle and persevering sharing in another’s pain.” ~Ad Limina Apostolorum to Bishops of the United States-John Paul II -

 

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The Economy

“Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power … Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development.”

“The distinctive mark of the Christian, today more than ever, must be love for the poor, the weak, the suffering.”

“I cannot fail to note once again that the poor constitute the modern challenge, especially for the well-off of our planet, where millions of people live in inhuman conditions and many are literally dying of hunger. It is not possible to announce God the Father to these brothers and sisters without taking on the responsibility of building a more just society in the name of Christ.”

“Hence in every case, a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the economic system… It is not the only means of checking, but it is a particuarly important one and in a sense the key means.”

“Wages must enable the worker and his family to have access to a truly human standard of living in the material, social, cultural and spiritual orders. It is the dignity of the person which constitutes the criterion for judging work, not the other way around.”

“Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death.” ~Evangelium Vitae

 

Will JP2 Become Saint John Paul Next October?

 

I didn’t pay much attention to Pope John Paul II before I converted.

To be honest, I pretty much bought the attitude of the secular media that the Pope was just another politician, pushing his agenda. I did not understand the papacy as a religious institution so much as I thought of it as a political power.

JP2 changed that.

I came into the Church because the Eucharist called me. It was a hunger for Jesus that would not let me rest until I acceded to it. I did not anticipate the radical change that the graces of the sacraments would have on my soul. No one told me that I would experience what amounted to a conversion within a conversion or that the writings of certain Catholic thinkers would change my understanding of what it means to be human.

I found the call of the Eucharist irresistible. But I still struggled with questions of all sorts. Those questions led me to read the Encyclicals to John Paul II which, in turn, led to a reevaluation of the Papacy itself.

What he wrote was not the thinking of a politician. It was the thinking of a shepherd.

When I read that Vatican officials have approved a second miracle granted through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, I didn’t find it surprising. So far as I am concerned, JP2 had already worked a miracle on me back when he was alive.

From CNA:

.- Theologians at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints have approved a second miracle granted through the intercession of Blessed John Paul II, moving him closer to being declared a saint.

“The proclamation of his sainthood needs only the approval of the commission of cardinals and bishops and the final signature of Pope Francis,” Italian news agency ANSA reported June 18.

Before Blessed John Paul II can be canonized, the Congregation must formally approve the miracle and present it to Pope Francis. Pope Francis would then promulgate and celebrate the canonization.

… ANSA speculates that Pope Francis might canonize him on Oct. 20.

 

Why are the Bishops Doing This?

Fortnight 4 freedom logo montage

In honor of the Fortnight for Freedom, I am going to limit today’s quick picks on Christian persecution to the United States.

The list below comes from the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. None of these examples involves burning down churches or mass murders of Christians. They do, however, show a huge change in the way that religious liberty is viewed by the government from just a few years ago.

I believe that this change has come about primarily through the almost non-stop Christian bashing that takes place in our media, academia and on websites. Christian bashing has become so popular that those who practice it as a profession, such as certain authors, speakers and bloggers, are not only able to continue their practice of Christian bashing without facing objections, they make an excellent living at it.

The rise of professional Christian bashers and the aggressive way that they ply their trade has certainly contributed to a cultural situation in which Christians must constantly be on the defensive. I think it has also fueled the attitudes which have led to the discriminatory practices listed below.

I’ve said a number of times that discrimination is a continuum. People do not move to violent persecution in one step. They work themselves into it by moving along a progression of prejudice and hatred. I believe that America is, as a nation, moving rather rapidly along that progression where Christians are concerned.

From the USCCB:

Current Threats To Religious Liberty

An Overview of Specific Examples

Pope Benedict XVI spoke last year about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened.  He called religious liberty the “most cherished of American freedoms.”  However, unfortunately, our most cherished freedom is under threat.  Consider the following:

  • HHS mandate for contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.  The mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services forces religious institutions to facilitate and fund a product contrary to their own moral teaching.  Further, the federal government tries to define which religious institutions are “religious enough” to merit protection of their religious liberty. 

  • Catholic foster care and adoption services.  Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the State of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services—by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both—because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit. 

  • State immigration laws.  Several states have recently passed laws that forbid what they deem as “harboring” of undocumented immigrants—and what the Church deems Christian charity and pastoral care to these immigrants.

  • Discrimination against small church congregations.  New York City adopted a policy that barred the Bronx Household of Faith and other churches from renting public schools on weekends for worship services, even though non-religious groups could rent the same schools for many other uses.  Litigation in this case continues. 

  • Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services.  After years of excellent performance by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require MRS to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching. 

  • Christian students on campus.  In its over-100-year history, the University of California Hastings College of Law has denied student organization status to only one group, the Christian Legal Society, because it required its leaders to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.

  • Forcing religious groups to host same-sex “marriage” or civil union ceremonies.  A New Jersey judge recently found that a Methodist ministry violated state law when the ministry declined to allow two women to hold a “civil union” ceremony on its private property.  Further, a civil rights complaint has been filed against the Catholic Church in Hawaii by a person requesting to use a chapel to hold a same-sex “marriage” ceremony.

Is our most cherished freedom truly under threat?  Yes, Pope Benedict XVI recognized just last year that various attempts to limit the freedom of religion in the U.S. are particularly concerning.  The threat to religious freedom is larger than any single case or issue and has its roots in secularism in our culture.  The Holy Father has asked for the laity to have courage to counter secularism that would “delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.”

Fortnight for Freedom 2013: Meatless Fridays and Prayer for our First Freedom

Today is the first day of Fortnight for Freedom 2013.

The American bishops have asked Catholics to refrain from eating meat on Fridays during the fortnight as a fast for religious freedom.

I would suggest that we also pray the Rosary for the intention of religious freedom on Fridays during the fortnight.

You can sign up for text alerts on religious freedom from the USCCB here.

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Pope Francis Invites Boy with Down Syndrome to Explore the Popemobile

Celestino di Tullo choked up when he saw Pope Francis approach his 17-year-old son, Alberto, during the Pope’s general audience yesterday.

Pope Francis walked up to the boy, who has down syndrome, and embraced him. When Alberto pointed to the Popemobile, the Holy Father invited him up to take a look. Alberto looked it over and took a brief spin in the Pope’s white chair before returning to his family.

 

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If It’s Not Prostitution, Take the Money out of It

MH900448636 I knew when I posted The New Prostitution: Surrogate Pregnancy that I would get a flurry of indignant responses and lies from people who buy and sell women’s bodies in this new, medical form of prostitution.

I’ve been to this particular rodeo before. What I encountered then and now is what people who stand up for the human rights of women always encounter: Lying attacks from their exploiters, self-destructive defenses of their own dehumanization by self-hating women, and stories of the “benefits” of the prostitution from their purchasers.

Just for the record, I don’t put pimps’ testimony on this blog. That includes pimp husbands who take money from their wives selling their bodies to medical science and doctors who buy and sell women’s bodies. I also don’t put johns’ excuses for their behavior on this blog. You’re wasting your time, trying to comment here.

My experience with this began when I went through infertility treatment to have my first child. I know a lot of about these drugs they give people. I know about their side effects and how they make you feel. I do not have first-hand knowledge of the irresponsible medical practice of egg harvesting.

My doctor was treating me for a diagnosed medical condition. The dangers and miseries I endured were part of a legitimate treatment for a bodily disfunction. She never over-stimulated my ovaries to try to make as many eggs as she could. She also never lied to me about the risks. She told me everything before we ever started, including the fact that the treatment could kill me.

The doctors who perform egg harvesting in Oklahoma lie about the risks. I know they lie because when I introduced a bill to stop them from paying women to undergo egg harvesting, they lied to other legislators and to the press. One of them said that egg harvesting was no more dangerous than riding in a car, among other flat-out lies.

They also claimed that they had not ever had a single complication. Another lie. One of these docs was part of the infertility clinic I went to. He wasn’t my doctor, but I knew him. While I was undergoing treatment, one of his patients lost an ovary. Call me crazy, but I think that qualifies as a complication.

These doctors are misrepresenting the risks and exploiting young women, endangering their lives, future health and fertility. They are reducing women and children to things to be bought and sold on the marketplace. They are also turning medical practice into an exploitative and dangerous profession that people cannot trust. 

If doctors can subject people to dangerous treatments that the patients have no medical need of in order to make money, if they can lie about the risks and use their professional associations’ political clout to create an environment that allows them to do this with impunity, then how can anyone ever trust their doctor?

We rely on these medical people to tell us the truth. We rely on them to give us treatments that we need because we are sick and need those treatments to get well. We rely on them not to inflict unnecessary medical treatments on us to make money.

These doctors are preying on women. They are buying and selling babies. All the lies in the world won’t change that.

There is one simple solution. Take the money out of the equation. If a woman wants to undergo a surrogate pregnancy for someone out of the goodness of her heart and she knows the risks and freely undertakes them, ok. But do not allow anyone to pay her to do this.  The same should go for egg harvesting. 

There is a reason we have laws that do not allow people to sell their bodily organs. The same laws should to apply to egg donation and surrogate pregnancies.

What I want to do is,

TAKE THIS:

Donor page masthead

 

AND THIS

  • First-time surrogates receive a base payment of $23,000, paid in installments throughout the pregnancy.
  • Additional payments total $4,000 or more, which increases the total compensation to $27,000. These payments include money for maternity clothes, payment for completing the embryo transfer, and a monthly expense allowance beginning when the surrogate signs the contract with the intended parents.
  • Surrogates who carry twins receive an additional $5,000, raising their total to at least $32,000.
  • Women who become surrogates a second time have their base payment increase to $28,000. This means they receive at least $32,000 total, or $37,000 if they carry twins. (see here.)

AND THIS

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OUT OF THE EQUATION. 

Give women and children their human dignity under the law. 

Otherwise, stop lying and call it what it is: The new prostitution.

The story below comes from a young doctor. She gave me permission to use her testimony when I was working to pass a bill to make it illegal to pay for egg harvesting in Oklahoma. I never used it, even though she gave me permission. She was still a student and afraid of what public use might do to her medical career. I didn’t think she understood how vicious and slandering these people really are, and I did not want to harm her in any way. I left her out of that fight.

However, she is in a different place in her career now.  She has offered her story as testimony to the Kansas State Senate and it is published at the Eggsploitation web site.

I reprint it here with permission. From Eggsploitation:

 

Sindy’s Testimony

Testimony by Sindy, M.D., Ph.D. to Kansas State Senate on Senate Bill 509, “Women’s Health and Embryo Monitoring Program Act,” March 2010

My name is Sindy. I have an M.D. and a Ph.D. in Biology with specialization in the field of real-time live imaging of the early immune response. With my strong background in basic science research and publications in top scientific journals such as Nature and Science, I have always been an avid supporter of biological research using live subjects and donated tissue, both animal and human. However, my experiences have taught me that at times, even a scrupulous medical scientist may be tempted to make erroneous assumptions, cut corners, or risk safety in order to save time or achieve success. In my medical and research training I have learned the importance of certain principles whenever attempting a procedure or study. These include: 1) ethics, 2) subject safety, 3) informed consent, and 4) patient autonomy. I am testifying today as a former egg donor on the dangers posed to women by the egg harvesting industry. I believe that all four of the above key principles had been violated in my case. Even though I suffered immediate life-threatening complications from the process, it wasn’t until many more years of medical training that I was able to understand the full scope of how I had been taken advantage of, mislead, and abandoned by the egg harvesting industry. As a medical professional it is still difficult to accept that such abuses are allowed to exist in my profession. Meanwhile, players “behind the scenes” such as the egg donation agency and the egg brokers have left the issues of ethics, health, and safety to the doctors, so that they can concentrate on profit. It is my assessment that the egg donation industry cannot be allowed to continue without regulations aimed at preventing unethical recruitment, substandard practices, and inadequate monitoring of women for the purpose of egg harvesting.

The goal of my testimony is to illuminate the importance of placing regulations on the way that the egg harvesting industry is run — from ethical, legal, and medical standpoints. 1) The health and safety of women must be protected first and foremost in any procedure related to ovum production, and should never be superseded by concerns of profit, costs of screening and monitoring the subject, quantity of eggs produced, quantity of eggs retrieved, or completion of the cycle. 2) Furthermore, like any other industry, the egg harvesting industry must be held accountable for reporting adverse effects and for tracking the long-term health of donors. 3) Ethically, informed consent must be properly obtained, with an admission that more research is needed to illuminate the long-term risks to donors. It is also an ethical responsibility for those who profit from egg harvesting to track the health of donors, including conducting large scale research in order to study risks.

I will now relate my experience. In 2001, while still in the combined MD/PhD program, I signed up for egg donation after seeing a university newspaper advertisement for egg donors. The monetary compensation of $6,500 seemed like a lot to me at the time, as I made barely enough to live on. Though I had a desire to help an infertile couple, money was definitely a major driving factor in my decision. Before I started, I searched the medical literature with a fine-tooth comb to verify that this procedure was indeed as harmless as advertised by the egg donation agency. I did not find any hard evidence in the literature of future infertility and cancers, and it seemed that the risks of other complications were extremely low. However, I was not told that the egg donors were rarely followed after the donation, and that doctors were under no obligation to report adverse events.1 Like many other women egg donors, I was bound by legal contracts to remain anonymous and therefore even if late complications occurred, they would be difficult to report.

At this point I had a normal gynecologic history, including normal age at first menses, regular menstrual cycles, and nothing significant on pelvic ultrasounds. It was assumed that I was healthy enough to undergo the egg harvesting protocol. Then I submitted my photographs, passed my genetic screening as a “quality assurance” for the tissue purchaser, and submitted myself to a psychological screen and IQ test administered by a psychiatrist. Based on these results I was chosen as the egg donor, from whom a “designer offspring” would be created.

The legal contract stated that the creation of these eggs were for the purpose of in vitro fertilization. The recipients of my eggs would retain all rights to my eggs and any subsequent embryos created from my eggs, “including but not limited to the ability to make all decisions regarding disposition of embryos.” The literature given by the egg donation agency outlined the possible risks of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), as well as some other theoretical risks that they assured me were rare. What I did not realize at this time was that there were other hidden players in the egg industry who could potentially make money off my eggs, and that there were no laws in place to discourage hyperstimulation of many more eggs than reasonably needed for the goal of helping the infertile couple. My contract did not guarantee that third parties would not be involved in the trading or selling of these eggs, though it specifically forbade donations to other infertile couples without the donor’s consent. My eggs could have been a high-value commodity for profiteers who had nothing to do with the infertile couple, and I was not made aware of this possibility in a forthcoming and direct manner.

The below was part of the information provided to the public by the egg donation agency:

Q: How many eggs are removed during the retrieval? A: The average is 10-15 eggs aspirated per cycle, but donors can produce 16 or more eggs.

Q: Can a donor not produce enough eggs in a stimulated cycle? A: Yes, if the doctor cancels the cycle for poor response the donor will be compensated between $650.00 — $750.00.

According to my agency, failure to produce more than 4 eggs qualifies as “not enough eggs”. Four is typically higher than the target for women who are receiving fertility treatment using oral medications. However, note that there is no upper limit for the number of eggs a donor may safely “produce”, indicating that safety of ovum overproduction is being ignored. This illustrates that the drive to produce a higher number of eggs is extremely high, and failure to produce “adequate” eggs is linked with reduced financial compensation for the donor. Needless to say, this concept of “more is better” brings up ethical questions concerning the use of financial compensation for the recruitment of egg donors. This is especially alarming when no standards are in place to prevent an agency from overproducing eggs. The agency also told me that if I had a successful donation and become a proven donor, I may receive more compensation for future cycles, upwards of $8,000 (on paper) to $20,000 (verbally) – more than I would make in a year of intensive lab work. When “successful” production cycles are linked to increased financial compensation and “failures” are linked to a decrease in financial compensation, women will become more likely to tolerate untoward side effects, including those of OHSS, for fear of losing this compensation. This payment structure poses an obvious ethical conflict.

After signing my legal contract I began to administer all the medications as directed by the egg donation agency. These medications arrived by mail. I already knew how to mix and administer the medications but I don’t recall being instructed by medical personnel. At no point did they adjust my dosage. I remember receiving follow-up early on with a local doctor, and more exams after I travelled by plane to Northern California for the harvesting. Imagine my surprise when they told me that I was producing approximately 60 egg follicles! A mature follicle measures ~2 cm in diameter. The normal ovary measures approximately 4 x 2.5 x 1 cm, and is analogous to the testes. Therefore, you can imagine how 30 mature follicles of 2 cm diameter clustered within each gonad must look like and feel. I was concerned, but the doctors and nurses assured me that this was within the reasonable range for a fertile young woman.

A couple of days before the retrieval the nurse emailed me that my blood estrogen (estradiol) levels came back much higher than they had anticipated (~10,000 pg/ml). A woman in her 20s has an average estrogen level of ~150 pg/ml, with a peak of ~400 pg/ml prior to ovulation. In late pregnancy, the levels may rise 100-fold, but this rise normally occurs over a 6 month period. I asked the fertility specialist to consider altering the timing and course of this process. I was concerned because the drugs I received were probably tested on Caucasian women of average weight. I am a thin non-Caucasian woman. Studies have shown genetic differences in liver drug metabolism for ethnic populations; the examples are too many to reference and are beyond the scope of this topic. Despite my concerns, the doctor told me that even though my hormone levels were extremely high, they would not make any adjustments to the protocol because they did not want to risk failure. I continued to follow all their directions, as it stipulated in my legal contract that I “[understood] it [was] imperative” that I “not deviate from [the protocol] unless instructed to do so by the IVF physician.” Therefore, I proceeded to finish my ovarian stimulation, finishing off with a shot of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) to help release the eggs for the harvesting. The next morning, I underwent transvaginal needle retrieval of the eggs.

What was unknown after the surgery was that the doctor had punctured an artery during the harvesting. When I woke from the anesthesia I became weak, nauseous, and dizzy. I was scheduled to catch a plane that afternoon, to return home. They told me that I looked good and was ready to go home, even though I had problems maintaining my blood pressure. At this point I refused to leave, because I could not stand without getting dizzy – orthostatic hypotension after an invasive procedure typically raises the suspicion of blood loss. A few hours later they started giving me intravenous fluids because they thought that the anesthesia was causing my low blood pressure. Then I developed pain and difficulty breathing. An ultrasound showed that everything was fine except for fluid in my pelvis, which they said was normal (later, this was documented as “fluid pocket near the right kidney”. During this entire time the doctor and nurse persisted in trying to get me to leave, which would mean hours of traveling by car and plane. The pain in my belly became unbearable and I became convinced that I was bleeding internally; something was irritating and pushing on my diaphragm. When I asked if I could be bleeding internally, they told me that it was unlikely. My blood pressure was even lower at this time, so they gave me medication to raise it. Unfortunately giving pressors in a bleeding patient increases the bleeding rate. At 6pm, after 8 hours of slowly and painfully bleeding out, they FINALLY admitted me to the hospital. To me it seemed like they had done just about everything to get rid of me up until that point. The fertility doctor ordered me to eat something. As soon as I sat up in bed to eat, I developed sudden distress and difficulty breathing. They took my blood pressure and called out “40/20″. At that moment I feared that I was going to die. In my medical records the blood pressure reported was 61/29. At this point they finally began to realize that something was terribly wrong, that I was going into shock from blood loss, so I was taken into the operating room for an emergency exploratory laparotomy to find the source of bleeding. The surgeons flipped through my bowels three times to ensure that no other organs were punctured.

During the harvesting of ~60 eggs, which I assume required 60 passes of the needle through my ovaries, the fertility doctor had punctured a high pressure artery in my right ovary. This tiny bleeder was easily fixed with a touch of electrocautery. I had an emergency blood transfusion to replace the 1.5 liters of blood lost. There is absolutely no reason why they should have waited so long to properly diagnose me, thus turning this into an emergency surgical situation when they could have done a small laparoscopic procedure to diagnose and fix a small bleeding artery. Had I followed their directions and gone home, I would have died. Unfortunately their disregard of the signs of OHSS, low index of clinical suspicion for post surgical complications, and their extremely slow response resulted in a horrific clinical outcome.

After the surgery, I had to be kept on a breathing machine in the intensive care unit (ICU) and treated for acidosis throughout the next day. After I was stabilized enough to move to the regular medical wards, the fertility doctor came to see me. She told me that the bleeding was probably due to a genetic bleeding disorder (i.e. my own fault) and that this has never happened before. Then she proceeded to check me for rare genetic bleeding disorders – nothing. I found the doctor’s reluctance to accept that a simple, clear-cut complication had occurred to be highly disturbing. A few days after I was admitted, the 9/11 attack occurred and all planes were grounded for a week. Despite not being able to walk or tolerate a 10 hour car ride home, the doctor told me I needed to free up medical resources and go home now. She tried to get me to leave by stating that when she had her C-section it only took her 3 days to start walking again. However, she neglected the fact that I had gone into prolonged shock caused by her own negligence, spent time in the ICU, underwent a massive surgical procedure, and had emergency blood transfusions. There were no apologies from beginning to end. I was shocked by this dismissive attitude from a top doctor of a top fertility treatment center, a medical expert who has published many articles on safety evaluation and recommendations for egg harvesting. At the same time, I was afraid to launch any complaints because I was a student in the same hospital system with plans to pursue the same field – Ob/Gyn; years later I decided on another medical specialty for unrelated reasons.

I am thankful to be alive, but I know that it was not because the doctor caught the post surgical complication. It was because I finally took a stand, and refused to go home when I knew that something was wrong. If I had died I would not be here to tell my story. I fear that cases like mine are buried deep by the fertility centers who do not want to lower their reputation. While I was in the hospital the fertility doctor told me that she would write a case report on the complication I had. When I searched the medical literature for all of her publications some years later, I wasn’t surprised to find that there was no such report. I have no way of knowing if this incident even made it into a statistical analysis somewhere in the medical literature. It makes sense that an industry thriving on profits and reputation has little incentive to report adverse events, for fear of driving away potential IVF clients and egg donors.

The $6,500 I was given has long since evaporated into medical treatments for multiple late complications caused by this incident. I developed an infection inside my incision site and required multiple steroid injections into the scar to stop it from growing out of control. I suffered from post traumatic stress for months because of my near-death incident, and was unable to work for two months due to both physical and mental deterioration. When I came off birth control a few years later I discovered that my previously normal menstrual cycles and hormone levels had become irregular. My previously normal ovaries took on a polycystic appearance, with more than 25 small follicles in each ovary. I developed occasional incontinence and pelvic pain likely as a consequence of the emergency surgery causing adhesions (fibrotic bands, analogous to scarring) around my organs.

The worst part of this is my current struggle with infertility, requiring continued exposure to the very same types of fertility drugs that I had already been overexposed to in the past – exposure whose link to cancer has not been adequately studied and may take decades to emerge.1 I may need more surgeries in the future to determine if the emergency surgery that was done had damaged my reproductive organs. I fear that the procedure may have harmed the quality of my eggs, even if the fertility experts are certain (at least theoretically) that quantity of eggs remains unaffected. Because of the high hormonal exposure during my egg donation cycle and multiple anecdotes from other egg donors, the development of early cancer is always in the back of my mind. Though a large study has found no evidence linking IVF to ovarian cancer, there is a generalized, undeniable causal relationship between transient exposure to female hormones and transient risk of rapid-growth gynecologic cancer.2 I believe that is absolutely necessary for egg donors to be followed and studied, especially if they had experienced hyperstimulation during the process. No follow up has ever been offered to me. Nobody from the egg donation agency, fertility clinics, or hospital has contacted me since, except to obtain my insurance information so that they could pass my hospital bill to my own health insurance company.

Summary and Conclusion:

1) Ethical considerations:

Financial compensation for eggs disproportionately targets college women with financial hardships. These women usually have long academic careers ahead of them and have not considered childbearing yet, so any infertility caused by the procedure would cause more psychological and physical damage to these women. Docked pay for failure to produce a target number of eggs and escalating pay scales for subsequent cycles are factors that may encourage underreporting of adverse side effects by the egg donor.

2) Subject safety:

Subject safety is variable, being highly dependent on the individual clinician’s practice. This is why there needs to be standardized safety practices and mandatory reporting of complications. In the article “Assessing the Medical Risks of Human Oocyte Donation for Stem Cell Research: Workshop Report (2007)”, one fertility expert advocated the following:3

By working from such information as a patient’s age, weight, and follicle count… a doctor can begin with an FSH dose based on those factors and then modify it as necessary. We monitor during the course of the stimulation to further decrease the dose if too many follicles are developing or the estradiol levels are too high.

To reduce risk of hyperstimulation, these actions were also recommended:

  • •Modify stimulation protocol
    • ◦Decrease gonadotropin dosage
    • ◦OCP/Lupron/Low dose gonadotropins
  • •Reduce the ovulatory dose of hCG
  • •Delay administration of hCG: “Coast”
  • •Cancellation of cycle eliminates the risk of OHSS
  • •Withhold hCG administration

Basically the safety recommendations for egg donors include determining the initial dosing of these powerful drugs on the weight and age of the patient. If there is any evidence of producing more eggs or hormones than expected during routine monitoring, then the drug dosage should be reduced, the administration of stimulating medications delayed, or the cycle cancelled. None of these recommendations were followed in my case. In fact, it was one of my own egg donation doctors who was consulted and quoted in the above article.

Regarding the risk during surgical retrieval of the eggs, the perceived negligible risk of complications is likely due to incomplete data:2

It is difficult to know, however, exactly how often such complications occur . . . Although excellent statistics are kept on such things as how many viable eggs each procedure produces, the statistics are not so complete on the complications that ensue during and after.

As my case illustrates, this perceived near-zero risk is inherently dangerous because it will not raise red flags when complications do occur, resulting in delayed intervention and a poorer-than-expected outcome. When a complication does occur, the denial of medical responsibility based on statistical rarity is a faulty and circular argument. This denial of responsibility would also prevent egg donors from obtaining monetary compensation for treatment of complications and appropriate follow-up. As my case illustrates, poor management of retrieval complications can be a problem even in the hands of the most experienced clinician.

Lastly, I received no follow up after my procedure. It is the ethical duty of the fertility industry to conduct timely follow-up and research studies in order to promote safety. This is true of any other industry especially pharmaceutical – so why make fertility an exception?

3) Informed consent:

Many are improperly informed about the risks of the egg harvesting process. Verbally I was told that risk was virtually non-existent and that studies have not linked the procedure to cancer and infertility. I should have been told that there were not enough studies or long-term follow up to determine risk.

It should be made abundantly clear if embryos or stem cells may potentially be secondarily sold, traded, or gifted. The amount of profit potentially generated from each transaction and the purpose of each transaction should be transparent to everyone involved, especially the donor. Without this information, the egg donor cannot possibly make an informed decision.

4) Patient autonomy:

I was hyperstimulated with approximately 60 eggs retrieved. During the procedure I expressed concerns about not using weight-based dosing of fertility medication, the excessive number of follicles produced, and skyrocketing estradiol levels. Nothing was done to personalize my procedure based on clinical findings, which is clearly incongruent with the standard of care. After the procedure my concerns about internal bleeding were not adequately acknowledged until I went into shock and had to undergo an emergency laparotomy. In my experience, the pressure to complete a successful cycle became stronger as I became more invested in the process, and thus I progressively lost my right to make decisions regarding my own body.

Final thoughts:

Even the tiniest risk of complication needs to be taken seriously especially when dealing with perfectly healthy young women, who have no need to undergo a potentially life-threatening procedure. Procedures with risk are performed on sick patients with the understanding is that the benefits of the procedure outweigh the risks or the consequences of doing nothing. In egg donation there is no medical benefit, only risk. It represents a conflict of interest when the physician does not perceive the egg donor as a patient for whom they have the responsibility to minimize risk. This aspect must be considered when treating healthy young women with everything to lose.

References:

1. Nature. 2006 Sep 7;443(7107):26. Health effects of egg donation may take decades to emerge.

2. American Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 153, No. 11 : 1079-1084.

3. Assessing the Medical Risks of Human Oocyte Donation for Stem Cell Research: Workshop Report (2007).

Thursday Prayer for Priests

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Margaret Rose Realy, who blogs at Morning Rose Prayer Garden, is one of those people who always touches the soft part of your heart.

Her blog is a gift, especially on the days when you need that warm and loving contact with a really good person.

Margaret Rose posts a prayer for priests every Thursday. It’s a wonderful idea, which we should all follow in our own way. Priests need prayer. As things get worse for Christians, we are going to need strong shepherds who will not run away or cow-tow in the face of pressures to deny Christ in one way or another.

We need them. They need us. We all need Jesus.

Here is Margaret Rose’s prayer. You can find other wonderful posts here, at her blog.

Divine Savior Jesus Christ, who has entrusted the whole work of your redemption, the welfare and  salvation of the world, to priests as your representatives, through the  hands of your most holy Mother and for the sanctification of your  priests and candidates for the priesthood, I offer you this present day  wholly and entirely, with all its prayers, works, joys, sacrifices and  sorrows.  Give us truly holy priests who, inflamed with the fire of your divine love, seek nothing but your greater glory and the salvation of  our souls.  And you, Mary, good Mother of priests, protect all priests  in danger of their holy vocation and, with the loving hand of a mother, also lead back to the Good Shepherd those poor priests who have become unfaithful to their exalted vocation and have gone astray.  Amen.

Pope Francis Calls for Christian Unity During General Audience

“We Catholics should pray together,” Pope Francis said in his Wednesday audience, “but we should also pray together with other Christians.”

This is a message every Christian should take to heart. We don’t have to give up our doctrinal differences to know that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth and Life. The most important thing is that we put Him at the center. When we do that, the differences we think are so important fade into the background where they belong.

We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to Christians. That makes it all the more important for Christians to support and stand by one another.

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