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.