Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 10/24/22
A physician’s “aha” moment. Dr. John Bruchalski just wanted to provide quality medical care to his female patients and to meet all their medical needs. That was why he agreed to perform abortions during his residency. After all, if his patient wanted to terminate a pregnancy who was he to question that decision? That was his outlook until that one fateful he describes in his book Two Patients: My Conversion from Abortion to Life-Affirming Medicine (Ignatius Press).
JWK: Tell me about your book. How did it come about and what do you hope readers take from it?
Dr. John Bruchalski: Two Patients is the story of my medical conversion and spiritual conversion and how the two are intertwined. I regrettably performed abortions during the first two years of my medical residency in the late ’80s. Even though I grew up in a devout Catholic home, I drank the cultural Kool-Aid of moral relativism that I was taught in school. I thought being a good doctor meant giving my patients what they wanted, even if it was to end the life of their unborn baby.
The turning point came one day in labor in delivery, when I was aborting a pregnancy in one room and trying to save a baby of the same gestational age in the next room. But things didn’t go as planned and I had to call the NICU to resuscitate the baby we were trying to abort. The baby was born alive and weighed just 5 grams over the threshold for requiring resuscitation. The neonatologist, whom I respected, scolded me and told me to stop treating babies like tumors. She reminded me that I am a good doctor and I can do better. I had two patients to take care of. That’s when I started wondering if I had been practicing a double standard in medicine.
A few months later, I went on a pilgrimage to Medjugorje with my mom and had a miraculous spiritual experience while I was praying on a hilltop. I knew I was forgiven and healed by a loving Father. It became clear to me that I was meant to practice life-affirming medicine, so I left abortion, birth control and IVF behind for a more holistic view of reproductive health that honors female fertility and the dignity of unborn life.
I want readers to know the hope and mercy and joy I’ve found in Christ and life-affirming medicine. I want them to know they are not beyond the Lord’s mercy and that there is healing after abortion and regret. I want medical students to know that they can do what I did. They can walk away from the medical status quo and still practice excellent medicine.
JWK: The title “Two Patients” refers to your experience of working to save one baby in one room while aborting a baby of the same gestational age in another room – and how it shook you, particularly after the baby you attempted to abort ended up surviving the procedure. Did both those cases occur over the course of one day?
JB: Yes, they were happening during the same shift and the rooms were separated by inches. Think about the cognitive dissonance that must create deep within the hearts and souls and subconsciousness of the doctor, midwives, nurses attending patients in labor and delivery, day in and day out.
What really shook me were the words of my colleague who called me out for being so callous in my treatment of the baby. Her words woke me up to the reality of what I was doing. None of it made sense. Why was I trying to save one baby in one room and abort one in the next? It was insane.
JWK: How did the experience change you?
JB: That moment in labor and delivery was a turning point of conscience, but the real change of heart came a few months later, after an incredible spiritual experience while I was praying on a Catholic pilgrimage in Yugoslavia. I was touched by God’s mercy in a visceral way. I confessed my sins and committed to turn away from abortions and return to the teachings of the Catholic Church. I’ve been practicing life-affirming medicine for over 25 years and I’ve never looked back. I was the prodigal son and God lifted me out of the “pig slop” and filled me with His grace. Whatever spiritual place you are in or past decisions you’ve made that you regret, know that there is hope and forgiveness in Christ.
JWK: You were raised Catholic but fell away from the faith a bit in college. Do you see your experience as a sort of divine intervention?
JB: Absolutely. My Father in Heaven pursues us because He thirsts for our love.
I was lukewarm in my faith as I grew apart from my family and, like so many, I wanted to be accepted by my friends. My parents consecrated me to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts as a child. They helped me see the beauty of the faith by enrolling my brothers and myself as altar servers, and they trusted the Catholic educational system to teach me the faith. That last entrustment turned out to be not what they thought. Situational ethics was the foundation of my college study — life forces hard choices and you balance the goods and bads and you make an interpretation of that and then your conscience tells you what to do and you follow that voice. Relativism in all areas of absolute truth were prevalent in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s in education and in Catholic education. I was formed in doubt and dialogue, not in radical prayer, critical thinking, as adopted children of God and seeking the Way, the Truth and the Life in the Church Christ Jesus founded on the apostles.
His death and resurrection and that grace saved and redeemed me, absolutely. There but for the grace of God go I. We are destined for the times we live, to make a choice, choose life or choose death (Deuteronomy 30). His Kingdom come… in the Our Father… what does that mean for me, for you, for us? I say this but do I live this? Every 34 seconds an innocent member of our human family and daughters and sons of “Our Father” are killed in the wombs of their mothers. Since Dobbs, I, alongside so many others, have an opportunity for a “re-do” to make a difference and save one more sibling in our human family by accepting His mercy and being an instrument of His power and His grace. Let’s be a force for good in this chaotic world we live in.
JWK: With the Dobbs decision, abortion has risen to become a major political issue. What are your thoughts on that decision and, from a medical perspective, what do you wish more people would understand when it comes to the issue of abortion?
JB: I remember the cold and dark Monday in January in 1973 when the Supreme Court ruled on Roe. I was shooting hoops on my snow-dusted driveway when my dad came home from work and called it “Black Monday.” The Dobbs decision this past June was a very joyful and sunny Friday to follow that Black Monday, nearly 50 years later.
Abortion bans and heartbeat bills are all important steps in the right direction to protect human rights in the womb, but what’s more important is building a culture where abortion is unthinkable. We need to create a world where elective abortion is unheard of and children are always welcomed. We can do that by paving the way for future medical professionals and showing students who want to practice life-affirming medicine that this is a profession in which you can succeed.
What I wish people understood more about the issue of abortion is how the conversation has changed since Roe was overturned and how it will continue to change. Now we are in a war on words. The pro-abortionists are pushing the false idea that any treatment for miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or disease that threatens the life of the mother is elective abortion, and that pro-life doctors are not treating these cases. This is simply not true. Life-affirming doctors treat all of these cases to protect the life of the mother and treatment for these cases is not the same as an elective abortion because there is never a direct intention to end the life of the unborn baby. The Dobbs decision did not affect treatment for these conditions that have been treated long before Roe went into effect. Pro-abortionists are just trying to make a case for all elective abortions on demand. There’s a lot of confusion and disinformation circulating and it’s only going to get worse as Congress fights to codify Roe and the states clarify their own abortion laws. Dobbs does not change our work but intensifies it.
JWK: The title of your book is Two Patients, but, in a real sense, you could have called it Four Patients since in each case you were dealing with a child and a mother. Do you have any thoughts on how we could provide more options that would make it easier for women to choose to deliver their babies?
JB: Two Patients refers to mother and child. The day I was aborting a pregnancy in one room and saving the life of a baby in the next, I treated the mother who wanted the abortion as my only patient in the room. Really, I had two patients in that room, her and her baby.
We’ve been stuck in a “one patient only world” in obstetrics for five decades under Roe where doctors have been taught to consider the autonomy of only one patient. It’s time to end the masquerade that human rights don’t matter in the womb.
There are so many things we can do medically and culturally to make it easier for women to choose life. One thing doctors can do is not push elective abortion as a “good medicine” on their patients in the first place. Doctors are often guilty of igniting the fear in women facing an unplanned pregnancy or a life-limiting prenatal diagnosis. Women deserve compassion and encouragement from their physicians and the truth that elective abortion is never medically necessary and will not get rid of suffering. They deserve perinatal hospice care for their sick babies. I hope this book gives women the courage to hold their health care professionals to a higher standard of care.
JWK: Two Patients is a pretty dramatic story. Do you see any potential for a movie treatment?
JB: Movie treatment? Sure, I can see Bradley Cooper or Chris Hemsworth in scrubs in the OR! Really, I see my doppelgänger, John Durham, playing me, but he seems to be occupied presently. I really pray for a healing from the wounds of abortion for patients and doctors alike, and an open discussion of how we treat the least of our brothers and sisters from fertilization to natural death. Medicine plays an important role in culture and society, and in religion, and for five decades we have been plagued with elective abortion as needed and good medicine, and it has poisoned all of us as “our sisters and brothers keepers” and our view of God as a good and loving Father who deserves to be trusted in His love for us, and His unlimited mercy for our misery.
JWK: Tell me about your work at Tepeyac OB/GYN.
JB: I started Tepeyac in my home with my wife, Carolyn, in 1994. We wanted to provide women with better reproductive care that affirms the dignity of the unborn, honors women’s fertility and provides care to all women regardless of their financial situation.
Today, Tepeyac OB/GYN is located in Fairfax, Virginia, and has been serving women in the D.C. metropolitan area for close to three decades. Many patients cross state lines to receive care from us.
We are committed to integrated and “wholistic” care. We speak to our patients with words like “mom and child” rather than “women and rights to abortion”. We know (the) “wages of sin is death” and that “by His stripes we are healed” and the unity of science and faith so we educate patients about healthy behavior. We teach the language of the female body through fertility awareness. We assist women through their life in sickness and in health to find health and happiness and we accompany mothers through their losses of miscarriages, abortions, stillborn, early-infant deaths and terminally sick children in the wombs. We offer a perinatal hospice program to provide medical, emotional and spiritual care for women who have received the heartbreaking news that their baby is congenitally ill.
Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease last year that impacts the integrity of my right arm and my ability to perform surgeries, so I’ve had to step away from delivering babies. I miss seeing patients every day, but this situation opened the opportunity to write and promote my book, and to serve as the President of Divine Mercy Care. Divine Mercy Care is the non-profit organization I founded to raise funds for the women in need at Tepeyac. We also work to educate the next generation of pro-life providers. If you are passionate about supporting pro-life medicine, please visit divinemercycare.org to support our mission. We need donors to provide for pregnant women now and for the future of life-affirming medicine!
End Note: You can follow John Bruchalski, M.D. on Twitter at @JohnBruchalski.
John W. Kennedy is a writer, producer and media development consultant specializing in television and movie projects that uphold positive timeless values, including trust in God.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11