Monday, 1 June 2009

The Death of George Tiller and the Hard Choices

Yesterday, Kansas doctor George Tiller was assasinated in his church, apparently by an anti-abortion activist offended that Tiller conducts late term abortions.

Tiller was shot while distributing the church bulletin at the 10AM Service he was attending with his wife. This was not the first time he has been attacked by abortion opponents - 16 years ago he was shot in both arms by another anti-abortion activist. His clinic has been the target of bomb threats, obstructive protest action (blocking the doors, clogging ventilation shafts etc.) and a series of lawsuits alleging illegal abortion (none of which have ever been found to have merit).

Dr. Tiller was the fourth abortion provider to be murdered since 1993, but the first since 1998.

I'm taking a deep breath now.

OK. A few facts that are worth bearing in mind.

1) George Tiller was one of only 3 doctors in all of the US who was still willing to perform late term abortions. Now there are 2.
2) Kansas (where Dr Tiller practiced) is the only state in which such procedures are legal.
3) Late term abortion is subject to far more restrictions than first or second trimester abortions, and are typically only granted if there is a serious threat to the life of the mother, or if the baby is very sick indeed.
4) Because of this, the profile of women who recieve late term abortions is very different than those receiving early pregnancy abortions - typically these babies were wanted and the parents who make the decision at this late stage suffer from enormous grief.

George Tiller's murderer must be a very disturbed person - and to their credit I think only a vanishingly small minority of anti-abortion activists would in any way condone his actions.

But I also think that an awful lot of anti-abortion activists do believe that George Tiller must have been a wicked man - a "baby killer" - whose determination to keep conducting late term abortions must, to them, seem like a perverse insistence upon evil.

To those who disagree with abortion, and those who are especially offended by late term abortions - I can understand their point of view. I really can. By 20 weeks, a fetus is nearly viable - a little person ready to grow - and it makes a lot of sense that you would have tremendous sympathy for that little person.

What I would ask you to consider, however, is that your sympathy for that baby is likely to be no less strong than that of the baby's mother - who most likely carried her child for months believing it to be healthy and excited about her pregnancy. That mother - and father - have most likely been decorating nurseries and picking out names.

I'd ask abortion opponents to believe that they don't have some special moral sympathy for these babies that their parents somehow lack. Instead, I'd ask them to consider the possibility that after agonising and suffering, these parents made a medical choice that they saw as a loving choice. If you find that hard to imagine or understand, try reading a few of these first hand accounts from women who have been through it.

And I would FURTHER like you to consider the possibility that those mothers, having been through 6 kinds of hell, often with their own health deteriorating, nevertheless firmly believing that the best thing they can do for their child is to spare its suffering, deserve a qualified medical professional who will respect their decision.

In all of the US there were only 3. Now there are 2.

You may think George Tiller was a monster. Some think he was a hero. I think he was a doctor. And from the sounds of it, a very brave one.

Rest In Peace, Dr. Tiller.


christine said...

I was sad to hear about this.

Your post echoes my thought on this exactly.

Hilary said...

Not only brave, but also merciful. I posted a similar comment in a German forum I found while searching for Tiller news this morning.

That families put into this difficult situation must travel, usually at great expense, to Kansas to find solace for themselves and their unborn is an unfortunate result of the politicization of medical issues. The Wikipedia article on Tiller suggests that he was specifically targeted by Bill O'Reilly.

Furthermore, is there another first-world country in which such a thing would happen? >>shakes head at America<<

Thanks for this post.

Obama London said...

Thanks Christine and Hilary - yes, my heart really goes out to these families who, facing the most wrenching decision of their lives, in medical trauma must also face interstate travel, refusal of insurance coverage, and at the final hurdle protesters who call them murderers.

I've known family members who have had to make similar types of end-of life medical decisions, and those choices were never made without a lot of pain and soul searching.

Now it's going to be that much harder for families facing that situation. Sad for everyone, really.