Don’t Be Fooled by Attacks on Planned Parenthood: Doctors Should Be Objective

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Commentary Abortion

Don’t Be Fooled by Attacks on Planned Parenthood: Doctors Should Be Objective

Dr. Gabrielle Goodrick & Kat Sabine

The Planned Parenthood employees in the deceptively edited videos were speaking in a way that reflected their profession, and that had no bearing on their compassion for patients, or their ability to provide quality care.

See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.

There has been a lot of talk recently in the media and public eye about the deceptively edited videos produced by the anti-choice group Center for Medical Progress. To some viewers, the doctors and staff from Planned Parenthood may have seemed cavalier as they spoke about tissue and fetal parts. Because of the discomfort and squeamishness most people feel about surgeries and medical treatment, combined with the private nature of abortion care and the difficulty that some patients face in making the decision to terminate a pregnancy, the discussions of these topics over a meal may have appeared to be garish and insensitive. However, the nature of medical care provision requires that doctors and other medical staff must have some objectivity. The Planned Parenthood employees in the attack videos were speaking in a way that reflected their profession and that had no bearing on their compassion for patients, or their ability to provide quality care. Abortion care providers are deeply invested in helping patients and the choices women make.

Doctors are trained to maintain some emotional separation from the subject and from their patients in order to prioritize medical care because that is what patients need. For instance, a doctor who cares for cancer patients must focus their energy on the treatment of the disease. Though they often encourage their patients to seek counseling and support, they prioritize patients’ medical requirements rather than address their psychological and emotional needs themselves in order to be most effective. That emphasis on care is similar for those who provide abortion. In fact, given the danger and hostility that abortion providers experience, the level of objective distance between patients and their doctors is often less than industry norm. Because abortion providers go through so much to provide the procedure, they are therefore incredibly empathetic and sympathetic to patients’ needs and overall well-being.

An important thing to remember as one sees these video clips out of context is that those Planned Parenthood doctors believed themselves to be in conversation with other doctors and medical providers. The problem with fake medical personnel is that they do not share the language of the real medical community. In Dr. Goodrick’s experience as an abortion provider, though staff would never speak to patients in such a cavalier manner about tissue and body parts, it is not uncommon for medical staff and providers to do so among one another—and to even have these conversations during a lunch break. Medical care providers and their staff communicate with each other in a professional, efficient, and objective manner so that they can provide the best possible medical services—even if their shared language might seem graphic or make people unfamiliar with it feel uncomfortable.

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To be sure, a lack of empathy toward patients can be a real problem in some arenas of managed care; in fact, the medical community is often satirized in popular culture for it, such as on shows like Scrubs, E.R., and Grey’s Anatomy, which use doctors’ employment of graphic and uncaring jokes, examples of poor behavior with patients, for comedic fodder. A recent trend in medical schools even requires specialized training on patient communication for real-life would-be doctors. But abortion providers in particular spend a lot of time talking with patients to ensure that they that they are sure of their decision to terminate a pregnancy and that they understand the procedure they will receive. Because of the significant time doctors who provide abortion spend talking to their patients, they generally have much better bedside manner. Patients who seek abortion care are far less likely to be met with a lack of empathy or callousness.  

Overall, the anti-choice movement has relied on the public’s lack of knowledge of anatomy and other body processes that medical care providers discuss regularly in order to drum up negative feelings toward reproductive health care. It has, for example, been extremely successful at representing fetal development—which looks very different depending on the stage of gestation—as the singular embryonic image of the monolithic fetus. Most people will have few, if any, bouts with surgery over their lifetimes. Even the one in three women who have experienced abortion care may have limited knowledge of the complexity of pregnancy. Doctors do it all day, every day, and have a different relationship with bodily functions, tissue, and organs. These are not comfortable topics for most people, and that is OK. But at the end of the day, we want our medical care providers to be able to freely communicate with others in the profession utilizing the language of their trade. Just as a doctor or medical staff person who specializes in organ donation procurement might discuss body parts in a clinical and non-personal nature, so too do abortion doctors in conversation with other medical staff.

For that matter, the type of fetal tissue donation being discussed in these videos is legal and consensual. This is an extremely important piece of the conversation around these videos and the controversy. The tissue and organ donation is provided for research, rather than being discarded as medical waste, and serves to help researchers find cures for various diseases. This gift of tissue donation after an abortion is no different than after the death of a loved one. Just as in the case of any other organ or tissue donation, reasonable costs are covered by the researching organization. There is a service being provided by doctors and medical staff to obtain consent; draw blood; and process, preserve, and transport the tissues or organs. We should not expect medical personnel to do so without minimal compensation for these services.

Women providing consent for such donations after opting to terminate their pregnancies are aware throughout the process that the tissue and organ donation is a bodily gift from them, and that no payment for that gift will be transferred. This is true in any organ or tissue procurement agreement.

Nearly half of all women have experienced an unintended pregnancy by the time they reach menopause, and the tissue and body parts that can be provided is incredibly important to scientific research and advances that help us all. As in the case of organ donation for transplantation, the doctors and medical staff who provide procurement services for life-saving organ-donation are not the monsters that this radical anti-choice group have made them out to be in these heavily edited videos.