‘Some kids are unwanted, so you either kill them now or kill them later.”
That was an Alabama Democratic representative a few days ago, during debate about an abortion bill. His remark was made out in the open, captured on video for all the world to see. He went on to say, “You bring them into the world unwanted, unloved, then send them to the electric chair.”
He said this during the same week when Israelis held the two-minute moment of silence to remember the millions who were exterminated during the Holocaust.
He said it while a play, All Our Children, is running in Lower Manhattan, at the Sheen Center, about Aktion T4, in which, from 1939 to 1941, approximately 100,000 people with disabilities were deemed by Nazi Germany to be “lives unworthy of life.” As playwright Stephen Unwin writes at the beginning of his script, Aktion T4 was “the logical extension of the eugenics movement, which had attracted support from a wide range of people, many with impeccable liberal credentials, across Europe and the United States.” This ideology took on a new lethal gravity with Hitler. Unwin quotes a doctor: “The idea is unbearable to me that the best, the flower of our youth, must lose its life at the front in order that feebleminded and irresponsible asocial elements can have a secure existence in the asylum.”
“By early 1941,” Unwin explains, “5,000 children, many only a few months old, with a wide range of conditions — Down syndrome, ‘idiocy,’ cerebral palsy, and so on — had been assessed, registered, and murdered. Initially, their parents were asked for their consent and a panel of three ‘medical experts’ were convened to agree on the course of action. In due course, however, deception and social pressure were deployed, and children were sent to so-called ‘special sections,’ apparently to receive medical treatment, but instead bussed off to their deaths.”
I found it impossible to watch most of All Our Children without crying. Increasingly, I’m having the same reaction listening to Democratic politicians of all sorts seemingly fall over one another to outdo themselves on a new abortion extremism. In some cases, like local official in Alabama, they never got the proper talking points — the training in euphemisms that would keep them from ever using words like “kill.” But in some ways, too, we seem to have entered a new point in a culture of death, where euphemisms are giving way to a new boldness. At this point in time, with sonogram technology being what it is, it’s an insult to pretend there isn’t a life there. So, the question is: Do we care to value and protect that life or not? Which is really a broader cultural question with implications for each and every one of us: In what ways can our hearts be stretched to love the woman who finds herself pregnant and in need of support, in need of real options?
No small part of the All Our Children story is about Clemens August Graf von Galen, the Catholic bishop of Münster, who spoke out against the Nazi policy of killing “unproductive citizens” (and spent years under house arrest for doing so). In one of his sermons, he said:
The opinion is that since they can no longer make money, they are obsolete machines, comparable with some old cow that can no longer give milk or some horse that has gone lame. What is the lot of unproductive machines and cattle? They are destroyed. I have no intention of stretching this comparison further. The case here is not one of machines or cattle which exist to serve men and furnish them with plenty. They may be legitimately done away with when they can no longer fulfill their function. Here we are dealing with human beings, with our neighbors, brothers and sisters, the poor and invalids . . . unproductive — perhaps! But have they, therefore, lost the right to live? Have you or I the right to exist only because we are “productive”? If the principle is established that unproductive human beings may be killed, then God help all those invalids who, in order to produce wealth, have given their all and sacrificed their strength of body. If all unproductive people may thus be violently eliminated, then woe betide our brave soldiers who return home wounded, maimed, or sick.
All Our Children is a fictionalized account of what went on with the murder of these innocents, including a meeting between Galen and a doctor in one of the psychiatric death traps. The play is being performed on Bleecker Street right now, on the other side of the wall of a Planned Parenthood clinic that provides abortions, as what should be an examination of conscience: “It’s often said that you can judge a society by the way that it treats its most vulnerable. If Nazi Germany failed that test in the most abject way imaginable, we should never forget its terrible lessons.”
Lately, all you have to do is check your phone for the latest news to see some grave warning signs about our own grave failings. Gosnell and Unplanned, movies that have made it to the big screens, make both an abhorrent story and a merciful story of conversion widely accessible. We need more of these. And we all have a role — it’s not merely for the artists and priests to speak out and do something but for every one of us who lives at this time. Objections to the excesses of Democratic lawmakers and candidates on this front are being routinely dismissed as conservative hang-ups. You don’t have to be a conservative pro-lifer to agree that vulnerable lives ought to be protected, that we must think in terms of more love, not less. That we will be judged on whether or not we rise to the challenge.
This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.