Commentary Abortion

The Lesser-Known Side of Dr. George Tiller: A Physician Colleague Speaks on the Second Anniversary of His Murder

Dr. Suzanne Poppema

Dr. Susan Poppema, a close colleague of Dr. George Tiller's, reflects on what Dr. Tiller offered his patients and their families, something missing from the recent push for abortion restrictions in Congress and state legislatures. 

May 31, 2011 is the 2-year anniversary of the assassination of Dr. George Tiller.  In May, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health recently gave awards to several providers at an event in New York. Eleanor Drey, MD, Accepted the 2011 George Tiller, MD, Abortion Provider Award on May 9, 2011.  All articles in the 2011 series commemorating Dr. Tiller can be found here.

With May 31—the second anniversary of Dr. George Tiller’s murder—less than a week away, I want to reflect on what Dr. Tiller offered his patients and their families, something missing from the recent push for abortion restrictions in Congress and state legislatures. 

What drove George to serve women and their families was compassion. For decades, he guided fellow human beings through some of the most difficult moments of their lives, and he kept at it, despite the threats, harassment, and violence that culminated in his murder.

Too few Americans understand the extent of the services George offered. In addition to maintaining the highest standards in medical care, he listened closely to his patients to determine what each needed, emotionally and spiritually. For example, his clinic would provide counseling by clergy in the patient’s religion and funerals in keeping with the family’s beliefs. George insisted on treating everyone who came to him for help as a unique individual. This is at the core of good patient care; without it, we fail our patients.

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George bravely immersed himself not only in the specialized medicine of later abortions but also in the complicated lives of his patients. Sometimes, for legal or medical reasons, he couldn’t accommodate a patient’s request for an abortion and helped arrange adoption. The work he did was far from simple, like many other kinds of health care.

Two years after George’s murder, many members of Congress and our state legislatures are writing and passing bills founded on the belief that every pregnant woman is the same and should stay pregnant, no matter what. I am horrified by these lawmakers’ inability to acknowledge life’s complexity and their lack of compassion for American women.

Before voting yes on yet another attack on abortion, anti-abortion legislators should think of the hundreds of families who wrote thank-you letters to George for his caring treatment and later mourned his loss. They can’t all be the enemy, right?

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