Remembering Terri Schiavo, And Her Story’s Life Lesson

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4-6-2013 6-27-44 PMIn her book “Ballad for Baghdad,” Ali Turner (who, incidentally, is the editor of this stellar newspaper,) begins her chapter on Terri Schiavo with a quotation from Thomas Jefferson: “The first duty of government is the protection of life, not its destruction. The chief purpose of government is to protect life. Abandon that and you have abandoned all.”

So why devote a chapter to the tragedy of the Terri Schiavo story in a book written, in part, to pay homage to the bravest among us—our soldiers—who risk everything to protect our liberty? Ali explains based on a conversation she had with one of our soldiers who she got to know well while in Iraq. “The fastest, fullest way to break a normal man in interrogation has nothing to do with causing him physical pain or inducing fear in him. Rather, it is to bring in a woman, rape her while he’s forced to watch, and then to really finish him off and break him, finish her off and kill her…men are indeed hard-wired to protect and defend women.”

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The first cousin of the above maxim could be that some of us, men and women, value life, and will do everything within our reach to protect, preserve, and save it.

I haven’t been to Iraq, but last year, I had an automobile accident which nearly took my life. Unlike Terri, I was on a ventilator—i.e. I came closer to dying naturally than Terri Schiavo did. My body was so beaten up that it took several days before the doctors could begin to repair it. The first objective was keeping me alive. The remarkable doctors at Vanderbilt saved my life and my legs, even as the prognosis was that I probably wouldn’t make it. Today I’m walking ahead of schedule, and the consensus among the amazing doctors who saved my life is that I will fully recover. I’ll probably be able to predict the weather based on knee pain that comes and goes for the rest of my life, but I’m alive, thanks to those who repaired my body with a determination to preserve my life.

I had the privilege to interview Bobby Schindler (Terri’s brother) this week on my radio show. We talked about his sister’s story, and how his passion for the sanctity of life blossomed based on the heart-wrenching experience of having a court decide the fate of a loved one.

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And then Bobby said something that almost caused me to break down mid-show. He told me that he prayed for his former brother-in-law, Michael Schiavo. As Christians, of course, it is our duty to pray for our enemies. That’s easier said than done. My internal reaction was, WOW. I’m not sure that I could pray for a man who effectively engineered my sister’s demise. When I asked him to elaborate, he said, (and I paraphrase,) that if Michael were to have a change of heart and realize that what he did was wrong, he would have the chance to change the hearts of others with regard to the sanctity of life.

Today’s headlines challenge the most pathological of optimists. Our debt is soaring; North Korea’s recalcitrance seems sincere; the nation is preoccupied with debates about gay marriage, guns, and immigration, just to name a few. Along the way, though, we would all serve ourselves well by remembering Jefferson’s words—that the chief purpose of government is protecting life. The Schindler family’s experience, and their magnanimous ability to forgive for the sake of preserving life, is an inspirational blueprint for the rest of us.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

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