Diocese of Lake Charles
LAKE CHARLES — Health care professionals gathered for the second annual “White Mass and Blessing” on Sunday, October 24, in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. The 9:30 a.m. liturgy was celebrated by Bishop Glen John Provost.
The White Mass is named in honor of the traditional white worn by doctors and nurses and is often celebrated on or near October 18, the Feast of St. Luke, patron saint of doctors.
Religious Sister of Mercy, Sister Mary Benedicta, co-director of the Office of Marriage, Family Life, and Pro-Life for the Diocese of Lake Charles, organized the Mass to recognize the vocation of health care professionals in the community and ask for God’s blessing on their work.
During a brunch following the Mass, Dr. David P. Darbonne, a Lake Charles obstetrician and gynecologist, shared his journey of being a Catholic physician. His emotional story of coming to terms with the harmful effects of oral contraceptives led him to tears at times as he recalled the turning point in his decision to stop prescribing birth control pills to his patients in 2004.
Darbonne said he objected internally to the contraceptive practices early on in medical school at Louisiana State University in Shreveport.
"Writing prescriptions for birth control pills was not something I felt comfortable doing, and I knew with my Catholic faith that was not something I was supposed to be involved in doing,” he said.
Eventually he put aside his convictions in order to get accepted into the residency program.
Throughout his four years of residency training and first eight years of private practice, Dr. Darbonne considered himself to be a good Catholic physician even though he prescribed birth control pills, put in IUDs (intrauterine device), and performed tubal ligations.
“I had no qualms about what I was doing. I wasn’t doing abortions,” he said. “I narrowed my opinion about what being pro-life was. If I wasn’t going to an abortion clinic and doing abortions, then I was a pro-life Catholic physician.”
As part of a Lenten practice in 2002, Darbonne chose to exclude everything that was secular. He prayed more, listened only to Christian music, read Catholic books, and refrained from watching television.
“It is amazing what happens when you clear your mind of all that influence,” he said. “That Lent was a turning point. It was a slow process, but that’s when things began changing. I started seeing things differently. Information I had read before on the side effects of birth control pills became more obvious to me.”
One of the mechanisms of the birth control pill is that it works by inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg. Darbonne said that was the kicker for him.
“What happens is the birth control pill will cause changes in the lining of the uterus so that the lining of the uterus will not accept the fertilized egg, and it will pass,” he explained.
“I had read this before but was not accepting what I was reading. I had a hard time doing that any more,” he admitted. "If a medication that I was prescribing works in part by causing the loss of a pregnancy in its earliest stages, then I should not be prescribing that medication."
Around this same time, Darbonne was teaching family life classes to fifth-graders at one of the local Catholic schools.
"I explained to the students when the sperm and egg meet, that’s when life begins. I would look at the wonder in their little eyes and see that innocence and how they were just soaking everything up. Then I had to walk out of that classroom and know that I was not protecting that life that I just talked about,” he said as he choked up.
“When the egg and sperm are joined and life begins, a soul is attached,” he continued. “That soul is immortal and will never go away. There are millions of people who believe that life begins at the moment of fertilization. They would want to know if the medicine I was prescribing could cause that life to pass. Many of my patients were shocked when I explained to them the risks of taking birth control.”
Another turning point for Darbonne was when he read the Gospel passage in Matthew 18 about “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”
“God was talking to me. I was that man. I was the one who was leading people astray,” he said. “I was the one who was causing them to sin. I thought I was a good Catholic physician until I read that passage. That was an awakening for me, a turning point.”
Dr. Darbonne knew he needed to make some changes. Within a couple of days, he mailed a letter out to his more than 3,000 patients letting them know he would be changing the way he approached family planning and contraception.
“It was a scary time for my practice. I was afraid I was going to lose all my patients,” he recalled. “I was afraid I was going to face ridicule from my partners. I did lose a lot of patients, but I gained a lot as well. My partners each told me they understood, were proud of me, and supported my decision.”
Darbonne also played a key role in assisting New Life Counseling Inc., with cases of crisis pregnancies by performing ultrasounds on women who were set on having abortions.
“The ultrasound was a game-changer for many of the mothers,” he recalls. “One of the most beautiful things I ever witnessed was when a crisis pregnancy would come to term, and the mother held her baby for the first time. She did not bow to the pressures of society. She did not bow to the culture of death. She chose life. She chose love.”
Dr. Darbonne is grateful for the support that he has received in this area since making the decision 17 years ago to dedicate his practice wholly to the sanctity of life at all stages.
“Everything turned out so well in the end,” he said.
An Advent Morning of Reflection for Medical Professionals is planned for 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, December 11, at St. Martin de Porres Catholic Church, 5495 Elliott Road, Lake Charles. The morning will include Mass, a talk presented by Father Ruben J. Buller, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.