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Vigil for Dr. George Tiller in Columbia – June 2, 2009 – part 1

Vigil for Dr. George Tiller in Columbia – June 2, 2009 – part 2

Phillip Wood, from Columbia, spoke of his family’s personal experience with Dr. George Tiller:

Phillip Wood:…I can think of three reasons why I’m very happy to be here tonight. One, is when our lives have been touched by greatness. We are the richer for that. And secondly, I think that George Tiller did a lot for my family at a point when we really needed a lot. And third, if you knew George Tiller, he would have wanted it that way.

I found out about the murder and I ran downstairs to the Internet and found the address of, of the church that he was at…and found the web site and sent a brief note. I want to read you just a few things about that in about a minute.

But, in the three, four days that I knew George Tiller he was not what I expected. By the time that we were going to terminate the pregnancy, and we’re in Wichita, Kansas, I kept thinking an abortion clinic was going to be kind of a cross between a hospital and a funeral home. I wasn’t ready for this loud, happy, and energetic man, who told terrible, corny jokes.  But, I found out later he’s a Lutheran, so that’s kind of an occupational hazard. [laughter]

I did write a few notes to the members of the congregation at Reformation Lutheran, and I wanted to share those with you today… “Dear brothers and sisters in Christ at reformation Lutheran Church, I am a member of St. Andrews Lutheran Church in Columbia, Missouri. I have only hours ago learned of the tragedy in your church. I am saddened at the violent loss of your church member, George Tiller….”

Phillip Wood in the glare of the video lights.

“…He [garbled] personal care which my wife and I received at his clinic. I am aware that the topic of reproductive rights has been a controversial topic within your church, and hope that sharing our experiences with Dr. Tiller may help provide some solace and affirmation of his commitment to his patients.”

In brief, my wife and I were unable to conceive after our first child, and even sought fertility treatments to have a second child. We were overjoyed to learn that my wife was pregnant with twin boys. But, sadly, late in our pregnancy, learned that the twins suffered from a condition called Twin-to-Twin Transfusion Syndrome…in which the blood of one twin becomes transfused with the blood of the other twin. This is a condition that occurs about thirty per cent of twin pregnancies, and in our case, it was a threatening condition to the viability of the twins.

We first sought, of course, to save both twins. And then, we sought treatment in Florida to try to save the life of one twin by tying off the umbilical cord of the other. Unfortunately when we got there we found out that amniotic [garbled] had occurred and the twins were in such a state the pregnancy had [garbled]. As other people who are professional in this area can tell you, no one walks in the door and says, “We need to terminate this pregnancy right now because something’s going to happen.” They say things like, “It is possible that the condition may pose a risk to your ability to conceive in the future.”

Long story short. We drove from Florida to Granite City, east of St. Louis where we were told that well, “One of the twin’s head is a little too large to perform that service here,” and we were referred to Wichita.

I was really uncertain what to do in a situation like this as a husband. But Dr. Tiller asked me to take part in all stages of the termination of the pregnancy. I will spare you the details of the security procedures, of the protesters, of the video cameras, the surveillance cameras everywhere. I will share with you, though, the one thing that struck me on coming into the clinic, was after you went through the sort of airport security thing, you came into this room. It was covered with pictures. Framed pictures. Framed letters. Of people who had said, “Thank you Dr. Tiller…” Some of the pictures were of children. “You know, we went on, we had another kid. And here’s a picture of this beautiful child…”

…After the twins were delivered, I went with my wife back to the bed and was with her. And Dr. Tiller came and said, “Would you like to see your boys now?”  And I said, “Okay.” And I went into the room. And he had wrapped them up in little baby blankets…and he said, “In these situations, usually we perform a service.” If you can kind of picture him, this was kind of how he talked, he was very loud. And I said, “That’ll be nice.”

…And then said, “If you like, take some time with them.” And I remember unwrapping the blanket a bit and, holding up the hand of one of them and watching it kind of curl around my finger. And I looked up, and, Dr. Tiller was kind of wiping away a few tears, just for a very brief, and he turned away. He was very professional. And I opened my mouth to say something. He smiled and said, “It’s okay, take all the time you need.” And he left. And I took all the time I needed to say goodbye…

…We went back to Iowa, had a funeral for them.  And began the slow process of recovery. A couple of weeks after that I was surprised to get an envelope in the mail from the clinic. It was a white envelope, inside that envelope was another envelope. And it said, had the words, “dignity, compassion” and “respect” on it. When I opened that up, inside Dr. Tiller had taped pictures of our brothers…Now, that meant a great deal.

I’m telling you this story about him because it contrasts so much with the loud bedside manner that he had. “I believe that you at Reformation Lutheran have lost a selfless and dedicated health care professional. And someone who did the best he knew how to serve others with thoughtless devotion.”

In the past years I’ve had to listen to Dr. Tiller’s problems on the news. And ,”Oh, I ought to write him a letter.” But, you know, I never did. I wish…I had.

I have testified a bit to the Missouri Senate here and some people have said, “How can you do that?” And I believe I’m trying to do that to pass along the [garbled] measure the care and compassion I have been shown during our experiences with Dr. Tiller and the other health care professionals we worked with. “My prayers are with you and the body of Christ in Reformation Lutheran Church during this difficult time. If you feel others can be helped by sharing this note, please feel free to do so. I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have. If there’s any way I can help your congregation navigate this difficult time of grief, reaction, feeling and, recommitment to compassion, so exemplified by Dr. Tiller, please let me know.”

Thank you.