German historians have started compiling a central register of 9,000 mentally ill people murdered as part of the Nazis’ euthanasia policy, most of whom were previously unidentified.
More than 100,000 people are believed to have been killed during a drive inspired by Hitler that was carried out in six extermination centres in Germany between 1940 and 1945.
The idea of a Nazi euthanasia campaign, backed by propaganda films portraying the mentally handicapped and incurably ill as “useless mouths to feed”, was first outlined in Hitler’s 1924 book “Mein Kampf” and became known as Operation T4.
This is a truly noble undertaking, however, as Wesley rightly points out, this atrocity was not inspired by Hitler, but rather, Hitler was inspired by a pre-existing eugenics movement propagated mostly by German doctors and other “medical professionals.” Sadly, most people don’t know this or even understand that this is how the Holocaust, or the mindset that brought about the Holocaust, began.
The crucial work justifying the extermination of “undesirables” was a book titled The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life. It was written by two eminent German professors, Alfred Hoche, a psychiatrist, and Karl Binding, a jurist. As discussed by Robert Jay Lifton in his book The Nazi Doctors, the incurably ill, the mentally ill, the feeble-minded, the retarded and the deformed were all regarded as “lives unworthy of life.” The destruction of these “unworthy lives” was “medicalized” by the authors: this was a “healing treatment” or “healing work.”
It should be noted that the publication date of this book was 1920. The Nazi Party, though formed from the German Workers Party in 1920-1921, did not gain widespread support until 1929. Adolf Hitler did not come to power until 1933, when he was elected chancellor. (Human Dignity in the Biotech Century, p. 118-119)
The concept of destroying life unworthy of life was already a widespread and accepted ideal in Germany once the Nazis came to power. The first official victim of the Holocaust, “Baby Knauer,” an infant born blind and missing his leg and part of his arm, was actually killed by one of Hitler’s doctors at the request of the child’s own father. This is what lead Hitler and the Nazis on a quest to eliminate the “genetically inferior” starting with more of the physically and mentally ill and eventually leading to any group of individuals they deemed inferior and “unfit” to live. It should also be noted that Germany was not the only country engaging in eugenics, which started with forced sterilization, at the time. In fact, before Hitler, the United States lead the world in the forced sterilization of so-called “undesirables” and this likely was also a major Nazi influence, though they took it to a frightening new level.
As much as we condemn the Nazi Holocaust it doesn’t appear that we have learned learned a whole lot from it. Today the euthanasia/eugenics movement for the sick and the handicapped, the very inspiration for the Nazi killing spree, is still very much alive and well throughout the world. One only has to look at some of the sympathetic comments made regarding the recent death of paralyzed rugby player Daniel James to see that there is still a general mindset that people who live with disabilities have less valuable lives and should be encouraged, even assisted, in their suicides. Just three years ago the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave top honors to two movies with just that message. Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, about a female boxer who becomes paralyzed and seeks suicide help from her trainer, swept the major awards winning Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Picture. And the award for Best Foreign Language Film went to the movie Mar adentro, or The Sea Inside, the true story of Ramón Sampedro, a Spanish fisherman who fought for almost 30 years for his “right” to an assisted suicide after he was paralyzed in a diving accident.
It is because of this “quality of life” mentality that 90% of the babies who are prenatally diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted, that family members opt to starve and dehydrate their severely disabled loved ones to death and assisted suicide is officially legal in countries like Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, and even America in the states of Oregon and, as of 11/4/08, Washington. This attitude is what causes people like Robert Latimer to be nationally sympathized for murdering his disable teenage daughter. And this is the mindset that I come in contact with on a regular basis when people are genuinely surprised that someone in my situation can possibly be so positive about my life.
Of course it is never “good” for human beings to be sick or live with terrible disabilities and incurable diseases, but it is a grave error to think that suffering makes life become less valuable. I applaud the German historians for remembering these often forgotten victims of the Holocaust and I pray someday we will learn from this very important lesson – no human life is ever worthless and the acceptance of ending the lives of one group of individuals inevitably leads to justifying the termination of others.
He also serves who only stands and waits.
-John Milton, On His Blindness
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Lives Not Worth Living, Take II
Women Denied the Right to Kill Their Disabled Pre-Borns