Human Exceptionalism

Euthanasia Holocaust Not About “Nazis”

Germany is creating a memorial to the 200,000 + victims of the euthanasia Holocaust, in which doctors enthusiastically killed disabled babies and adults between the years 1939-45. From the BBC story:

Work has begun on a memorial in Germany for the 300,000 people murdered by the Nazis for having mental and physical disabilities or chronic illnesses. A 30m (100ft) long glass wall is being built in the centre of Berlin, near the former site of the Nazi-era office that organised the “euthanasia” programme. “>In 1939, Adolf Hitler told officials that people “considered incurable” should be “granted a mercy killing”.

It is a misnomer to say that these helpless people were “Nazi” victims. The doctors who killed disabled people were not necessarily Nazis and certainly weren’t forced by the government into murder. Rather, they were eugenics enthusiasts who truly believed that killing was a “healing treatment” that was best for the patient, family, and Reich.

If that sounds familiar, it should. Today, the Netherlands permits the infanticide of babies because they are seriously disabled as an act of “compassion,” and “after-birth abortion” is promoted in the most respectable medical and bioethics journals. Eugenic abortion is an epidemic, with 90% of Down and dwarf fetuses never being permitted to see the light of day. We dehydrate to death people with profound cognitive disabilities by removing sustenance from them.

Suicide clinics are operating in Switzerland and in Belgium euthanasia is coupled with organ harvesting. Assisted suicide/euthanasia has been redefined into “aid in dying” or “death with dignity.” This would all be familiar territory for the eugenicists of the early to middle 20th century.

Calling the euthanasia Holocaust a “Nazi” issue is a defense mechanism that enables us to pursue pernicious policies–with some different motives and without the hate speech, to be sure–and not see that a log is also in our own eye. For as Dr. Leo Alexander–the noted psychiatrist and medical investigator at the Nuremberg Trials–warned in the 1949 pages of 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.

And here’s an irony: The NEJM actively supports many of the policies against which Alexander warned. The utilitarian and eugenic “quality of life” attitudes that intellectually enabled the medical Holocaust–and indeed, which were advocated within the medical intellegentsia long before the Nazis were a dark cloud on the horizon–are more than present in our own midst. They are in danger of prevailing–and without the backing of a despotism. 

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