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Human Exceptionalism

Life and dignity with Wesley J. Smith.

Memorial to German Euthanasia Victims



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It wasn’t “the Nazis” that caused the mass euthanasia deaths of disabled infants and adults. It was the eugenics ideology of the era that denied human exceptionalism.

We are heading in the same direction–although certainly not mass murder of the kind that happened in Germany circa 1939-1945.

But we too have accepted the idea that there is such a thing as an unlivable life. Indeed, in the Netherlands, babies born with serious or terminal disabilities are killed in their cribs by doctors.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, people with serious mental illnesses are euthanized–to widespread applause.

All of this reminds me of the words of Nuremberg Medical Investigator Leo Alexander, published in 1949 in the New England Journal of Medicine:

Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.

This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick…

The killing center is the reductio ad absurdum of all health planning based only on rational principles and economy and not on humane compassion and divine law. To be sure, American physicians are still far from the point of thinking of killing centers, but they have arrived at a danger point in thinking, at which likelihood of full rehabilitation is considered a factor that should determine the amount of time, effort and cost to be devoted to a particular type of patient on the part of the social body upon which this decision rests.

At this point Americans should remember that the enormity of a euthanasia movement is present in their own midst.

Do you want to know what keeps me up at night? I don’t think that today’s NEJM would publish Alexander. I think it has embraced the very mindset against which he warned.



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