My wife and I visited Berlin in early December and found a city struggling to emerge from its painful past by eschewing denial and facing its history head-on.
Earlier attempts to obliterate all vestiges of the Wall that had divided the city for decades have been abandoned. Now, sections of wall have been re-erected throughout the city center, complete with explanatory photos and text. Snaking along the city floor is a double row of bricks, retracing the exact path of the wall, like a terra cotta scar across the city’s belly.
What moved us most, however, was the newly constructed memorial to victims of Hitler’s infamous “Aktion T4” program, which administered forced “euthanasia” on an estimated 300,000 disabled persons, many of whom were little children. The euthanasia law of 1939—our guide explained—was the only legislation that Adolf Hitler personally signed into law, and was the beginning of a series of programs of eugenics and racial cleansing that ended in the Final Solution.
Though the Aktion T4 decree euphemistically spoke of “incurable” patients being “granted” a mercy death, the actual criterion of selection for candidates to be eliminated was different. The benchmark used was not incurability, but rather “ineducability,” or the inability to become “productive” members of society.
Nazi officials habitually deceived parents to gain their consent, often telling them that their children were being sent to “Special Sections,” where they would receive improved treatment. The children sent to these centers were kept for “assessment” for a few weeks and then killed by injection of toxic chemicals, but faked death certificates registered the cause of their demise as “pneumonia.”
The memorial hit home for us, since our 11-year-old son Joshua, who has Down’s syndrome, would have been a shoo-in for elimination.
Reminiscent of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, the T4 program mandated the extermination of all children under three years of age in whom any of the following serious hereditary diseases were suspected: idiocy and Down’s syndrome; microcephaly; hydrocephaly; malformations of all kinds, especially of limbs, head, and spinal column; and paralysis, including spastic conditions.
Berlin, however, is a long way from Ontario, and those who would not learn from history are destined to repeat it. In the most recent issue of the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, a prominent Canadian bioethicist and philosophy professor at Queen’s University, argues for acceptance of “postnatal abortion” to justify euthanizing newborns with disabilities.
In the article, Professor Udo Schuklenk argues that doctors “can justifiably euthanize certain severely impaired neonates,” and that parents, “should be able to freely decide on what would amount to postnatal abortion.”
A well-known supporter of euthanasia, assisted suicide, and abortion, Schuklenk states:
“Once we have concluded that death is what is in the best interest of the infant, it is unreasonable not to bring about this death as painlessly, and as much controlled in terms of timing by the parents, as is feasible.”
Schuklenk employs the familiar non-personhood argument of abortion supporters to defend his position, saying that “in morally important ways his [a newborn baby’s] developmental state is closer to that of a fetus than to that of a person like you or me.”
Unfortunately, Schuklenk is not just a crackpot on the lunatic fringes of the academy. He is a respected bioethicist, and was invited to chair the 2011 “Expert Panel on End-of-Life Decision-Making” established by the Royal Society of Canada, in order to “assess the pros and cons of permitting physician-assisted death.”
Alex Schadenberg of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition has taken issue with Schuklenk’s reasoning and his celebrity, noting that he and his colleagues “are being given a significant amount of ink on paper where they can promote their eugenic ideology to end the lives of people with disabilities under the guise of ending suffering.”
“The concept that the lives of some people are not worth living leads to the death of newborns with disabilities and infanticide. This concept also leads to the continued devaluation of the lives of people with disabilities and people with chronic and other vulnerable conditions,”
For the moment euthanasia is only legal for adults in Canada, and the new Quebec assisted-suicide law applies only to mentally competent adult patients. Unfortunately, evolving policies in other liberal-minded nations give cause for concern. This past March, Belgium became the first country in the world to lift all age restrictions on euthanasia. The Belgian Catholic bishops’ conference responded by stating:
“We are saddened and fearful for the future after this law to extend euthanasia to children without any age limit.” The law does stipulate that in order to be eligible, the child must display “a capacity of discernment and be conscious at the moment of the request,” though anyone who has had dealings with children knows how fluid this criterion can be.
In reality, selective postnatal euthanasia is the logical follow-up to current uses of selective abortion practiced around the world.
“In point of fact, we practice eugenics when we screen for Down’s syndrome, and other chromosomal or genetic abnormalities,” said Oxford professor Julian Savulescu in a 2005 interview. “The reason we don’t define that sort of thing as ‘eugenics,’ as the Nazis did, is because it’s based on choice. It’s about enhancing people’s freedom rather than reducing it.”
Sometimes it takes a trip to Berlin to realize that the writing is already on the wall.
I am amazed how people don’t understand how once a practice is accepted it will ‘mature’ into something more than what was anticipated. Think you for this well written piece.
As a law student who has researched this subject thoroughly I can say that the euthanasia laws in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg have nothing whatsoever to do with the foul mass murder of innocent people under the infamous Aktion T4 in nazi-Germany. Apparantly you are not able to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary euthanasia: if permission is not given or there is doubt as to whether the person in question is aware of the consequences, was not coerced or of sound mind then euthanasia will not be granted. If the legal conditions aren’t met the perpetrator will be prosecuted for murder which in our criminal law carries a sentence of life in prison. In Belgian law a second opinion must always be sought and the consulting doctor must be independent from both the patient and the initial caregiver, both must verify the patient is in unbearable pain and medical science is not able to cure him or make his life bearable. In the case of children a third professional (psychiatrist or psychologist) must be involved aswell to assess state of mind. There is a central Evaluation Commission composed of medical and legal professionals (including professors of our leading universities) selected by the Senat and given mandate by the goverment and it is tasked with investigating proper adherence to the law. If it is found lacking the public prosecutor will be notified and a criminal investigation will be opened. Anyone (parent, other family member, friend…) who has any doubts whether or not a case of euthanasia was voluntary is free to lodge a complaint with the public prosecutor.
Children who have been suffering for years from horrible diseases like cancer are often far more mature than most adults but of course you as a theologian with no experience in this field know better than medical doctors, psychologists and other professionals who work with these poor children everyday. Do you honestly think these people are monsters like the nazi’s? I have the utmost respect for doctors who have the courage to perform this difficult task, I can only imagine how heartbreaking it must be to realize despite your best efforts there’s no way to cure them.
What the nazi’s did was cold blooded murder with no justification whatsoever, to equate this with the humane and controlled euthanasia laws based on personal autonomy and dignity in modern, democratic countries with respect for the rule of law and the fundamental human rights is not only severely intellectually dishonest. It’s plain insulting.
This week the column in the comics section of the local paper had a question
from someone looking for a connection to an assisted suicide group. The “answer Lady”
rarely makes judgmental comments. From the look of the question, it very well could
have been planted by a group friendly to the movement.
Education is the answer, and it is unlikely to come from our government schools.
Thank you for your article.
We are numb as a society and believe (I feel) that this horror only happens ‘someplace else’. But as a matter of fact, a bill allowing assisted suicide in Pennsylvania will be in front of the house in the spring of 2015. We can keep our heads in the sand and wait until the slippery slope takes over putting life at risk across the board we can open our eyes and those around us to the reality of disposing of the most vulnerable among us. Who would have ever thought that the legalization of abortion in 1973 in the US would have amounted to almost 60 million babies killed today. Until we fully accept Christ and the morality that we are born with, these horrors will continue. And your article brings home that murder will be expanded to tiny ones with disabilities. I can’t even imagine how disappointed God must be in us.