The following is a letter to Terri Schiavo
from a Marine who fought in Vietnam.
March 24th, 2005
You don’t know me and you never will. Unfortunately, I know a lot more about
you than you could have ever imagined. I am not alone; there are millions of
your fellow Americans who can say the same thing. The information I have been
given about you is intimate, conflicting and disturbing. I try not to think
about you, but the stories about you appear everywhere I look.
The more I learn, the more confused I become. The facts surrounding your
situation are complex and hard to grasp. They have been reviewed, analyzed and
parsed by every conceivable outlet, agency and personality.
I have strived to get to the heart of it. Look for the critical thought paths
and logic. Seek the building blocks of reason from which I can take a strong,
I have listened to Constitutional experts from Georgetown University Law
School. These are not light weights and I always admire the intellectual
horsepower they demonstrate by analyzing very complex legal issues and defining
them in lucid, easy-to-understand terms.
Somehow, their explanations in your case leave me cold and unsatisfied. I am
not at all certain we have done the right thing here. I accept that we are a
nation of laws deeply embedded in and flowing from our Constitutional heritage.
I understand the inherent tension between federal intervention and states
rights. But something gnaws at my psyche like an ulcerous sore. It seems as
though we may be technically and narrowly correct in the adjudication of your
situation, but in doing so, have lost sight of a greater good and a time honored
tradition of going to the assistance of those whose lives are in jeopardy.
Many years ago, I was sent to a place called Vietnam. Many others went there
as well. It was difficult and filled with instances in which Americans were
wounded and for brief periods of time were totally incapable of taking care of
themselves. Without hesitation, their comrades sprang to their defense and
rescue. Many of the rescuers lost their lives in the effort or were seriously
wounded. There was a deep bond among all of us that said if you were hurt, I
will be there to help you. Count on it. It was that trust that made going into
harm’s way more comfortable and reassuring. It was trust, Terri, that absent my
own ability to decide my fate, I could count on others to give me a second
The men and women who participated in these efforts could have hidden behind
the rules and the process that said they shouldn’t do it because it was too
risky. No one would have blamed them. But, they didn’t. They stepped out bravely
and put themselves on the line and saved lives that surely would have been lost.
They showed leadership and courage and took great risks. Their efforts are what
help define our American culture.
You see, Terri, this is my experience with protecting life. If there’s hope,
if there’s a chance, if there’s a way then we should step into the fray and make
it happen. The technocrats will always be there to criticize the efforts. They
will sight laws and precedent and opinions. They always do. In Vietnam, they
would have been the ones who said that the weather was too bad for the
evacuation helicopter to fly into the landing zone where a young soldier or
Marine was dying. Despite their pessimism, a brave air crew took off, rescued
them and saved lives that were surely lost if they had listened to the pundits.
That’s what sticks in my craw, Terri. Globally, we seem willing to commit
American lives to protect and save lives elsewhere, but right here under our
noses, we lack the courage to step from behind the technical interpretation of
law and personally ensure that everything has been done to protect yours. Just
days ago, they ruled that your feeding tubes were to be removed.
Terri, I am a Dad and a grandfather. I try to imagine what it would be like
for me if one of my three beautiful daughters were in your place. I try to
imagine watching those tubes being removed and being powerless to stop it. I try
to imagine what I would feel seeing you deteriorate each day as your body slowly
shuts down because someone who probably never stood by your bedside, looking
down into your eyes made a purely legal call.
I know that I would be incarcerated now, because I would force my way into
your room, and hold you and hug you and cry the tears of utter despair as the
flesh of my flesh slipped from my life; and it was all …so legal. I would be
restrained firmly and gently by security guards, the ambivalence of their orders
etched on their faces, as they dragged me from your room.
Soon, Terri, you will be delivered from all this. You will find peace in a
place where the purpose of your life is not restricted by the laws of man nor
debated by those who have chosen to ignore the primacy of life. You will be
whole and beautiful again. When you reach that place, pray for us and forgive
Rest in peace, Child of God.
Dave St. John