In My Mind's I

His name made the nickname inevitable:  “Tiller the Killer.”  But Dr. George Tiller was killed himself on May 31.  Not in Women’s Health Care Services, the Wichita, Kan. clinic where he performed late-term abortions, but in Reformation Lutheran Church. Shot point-blank in the head as he ushered at Sunday morning services.
We Jews stand at varying places in the ongoing pro-life/pro-choice debate.  But Berenice Kleiman of Cleveland is one outspoken Jewish defender of Tiller.
“I met him 10 years ago, when he saved the life of someone very close to me,” she writes.  “She carried a fetus with a terrible abnormality that had only been diagnosed through a late-term ultrasound.  Other specialists, including pediatric neurologists, recognized that this child had no chance at life.  One suggested that this young woman would benefit by holding the baby in her arms at full-term and watching it die.  Others cringed, but said they were powerless under current pressures to offer an alternative.”
Mrs. Kleiman is a friend of one of my cousins who “introduced” us by e-mail, and we’ve corresponded ever since.  There’s no one in the world more pro-life than Berenice, who literally wrote the book about her own related issue: “One Stroke, Two Survivors” is the true story of how, after her husband Herb had a devastating stroke, she brought him home instead of consigning him to an institution as recommended by everyone, and has made his rehabilitation her own life’s work ever since.
Dr. Tiller’s “specialty” — if there can be said to be such a thing in the world of abortions — was anencephaly, a severe and always fatal birth defect in which the top of the skull is missing, and the brain itself severely affected.
“He reached out to my loved one,”  continues Berenice, who declines to publicly name or give her relationship to that very close “someone” she’s talking about.  “He ended pregnancies that should not have existed.  He was a courageous, committed physician dedicated to saving the lives of young women carrying terrible aberrations and mistakes of nature.  Other doctors, intimidated by the vast consequences, shied away from this duty.  Dr. Tiller was crucified both legally and in final death because of the extreme views of others who are unable to accept that nature does make terrible mistakes….”
Dr. Tiller died on May 31, but this was not the first time he had been shot.  Back in 1993, a woman named Shelley Shannon got him in both arms, later claiming in her own defense that what she had done was not immoral, not a crime at all, given the person she had done it to.  (She was, however, sentenced to more than a decade in prison anyway.)
George Tiller, born in 1941, had first planned a career in dermatology —  a medical field unlikely to get him into the kind of controversial hot water in which he swam for virtually all of his professional life.  But on the premature death of his own father, also a physician, the young doctor felt compelled to step in and save what for him was a “family practice” in two senses of the phrase.  The specialty that inevitably killed him was an outgrowth of what he encountered in his own early office experiences.
Berenice Kleiman attributes Tiller’s death to “the weaknesses of others in the medical establishment and the mendacity of the media, who inflame passions by labeling him and the few others in his field as ‘baby killers’ — those physicians who are actually life preservers, allowing young women to move on and have the families they so dearly want.”
In death, “Tiller the Killer” has become the latest lightening rod in an ongoing, increasingly passionate debate.  I myself maintained, long ago, that while I couldn’t speak for any other woman, I’d never be able to undergo an abortion myself.  Today I wonder, what did I really know about how I would behave under certain circumstances?  I was one of the fortunate ones who was never tested…
It’s too late now to save George Tiller, but his work will go on: his Wichita clinic reopened last Monday after a full week of mourning for its downed founder.  But as Scott Roeder moves toward trial for his crime, which has been denounced by so many, even the director of the National Right to Life Committee, my correspondent Berenice Kleiman makes a final plea:
“If nothing else comes from this, let’s flush ‘baby killer’ from our vocabulary and substitute a less noxious term.  Such as ‘obstetrician.’”

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