Rare in the news coverage of the murder of Dr. George Tiller were the voices of physicians who referred patients to him. That’s because, in the media, abortion features as an "issue," a battlefront in the culture wars, and only secondarily, if at all, as a medical procedure. The letter below, written by a physician in response to my comment in The Nation on the murder, is a rare exception, shedding light on Dr. Tiller’s role as a healthcare provider. Many thanks to Dr. Laurence Burd, its author, for writing it.
In his article, "A Culture War Casualty", Eyal Press underscores with accuracy that those who use hateful invectives, should not feign shock or dismay when their message produces murder and violence. This article, however, like the majority of others I have read following the death of George Tiller, MD, is fixated upon the abortion debate and neglects to recognize the real tragedy of Dr. Tiller’s loss to the profession of medicine and to the American public. As a practitioner of Maternal Fetal Medicine, I have referred several patients to Dr. Tiller, since he was one of the very few physicians in the country, because of state laws and because of his desire to provide compassionate care, who provided late pregnancy termination services. He was an exemplary physician who believed very strongly in what he was doing. Both women whom I referred to Dr. Tiller’s clinic in Kansas were carrying infants with birth defects that were incompatible with survival. One had anencephaly, a condition where a large part of the forebrain was absent, and the second had multiple midline defects, allowing vital organs such as the heart and the abdominal structures to lie outside the fetal body (Pentalogy of Cantrel). Dr. Tiller accepted my referrals graciously, and cared for these women skillfully, and by so doing, ended their risk of further complications inherent in any ongoing pregnancy. As a physician, I believe that the volume of the "abortion debate" has brought silence to the essence of the medical issue, and that is how to provide the best care to our patients. The assassin’s bullet not only ended an honorable life, but ended a conduit to provide good medical care to the American public. We all are victims of this terrible, heinous crime. The beliefs of those on each side of the abortion issue will never be resolved. In all my years of medical practice, I have never met a patient who was glad to terminate a pregnancy, but only did so because of an awareness of danger to themselves. We must stop the shouting and name calling that has so divided our society and follow President Obama’s suggestions to come together and devote our efforts to decrease the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies. This seems to be an approach that will end much hatred and violence and will greatly contribute to an improvement in the physical and mental health of all Americans.
Laurence Burd, MD.