Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: holocaust

Assisted Dying or Nazi Eugenics

Spot the difference.

Here are the words of the Assisted Dying Bill 2 which is currently being promoted by Rob Marris MP in the UK Parliament:

Subject to the consent of the High Court (Family Division) pursuant to subsection (2), a person who is terminally ill may request and lawfully be provided with assistance to end his or her own life. Subsection (1) applies only if the High Court (Family Division), by order 5 confirms that it is satisfied that the person:

  1. has a voluntary, clear, settled and informed wish to end his or her own life;
  2. has made a declaration to that effect in accordance with section 3; and
  3. on the day the declaration is made: (i) is aged 18 or over (ii) has the capacity to make the decision to end his or her own life; and (iii) has been ordinarily resident in England and Wales for not less than one year.

Susanne E Evans, in her book Forgotten Crimes wrote:

“…a [Nazi] Ministry of Justice Commission on the Reform of the Criminal Code drafted a similar law sanctioning “mercy killing” of people suffering from incurable diseases. The law read, in part:

Clause 1 Whoever is suffering from an incurable or terminal illness which is a major burden to him or others, can request mercy killing by a doctor, provided it is his express wish and has the approval of a specially empowered doctor.

Clause 2 The life of a person who because of incurable mental illness requires permanent institutionalisation and is not able to sustain an independent existence, may be prematurely terminated by medical procedures in a painless and covert manner.”

We are not quite at the point where most people agree with Clause 2. However the proposed Assisted Dying Bill proposed by Lord Falconer is essentially identical to Clause 1 of the Nazi Bill described by Suzanne Evans and which was the first stage in the legitimising the T-4 Action (which killed over 100,000 people with disabilities). The gas chambers which had been used to kill people with disabilities were then disassembled and taken to concentration camps and used on the Jews.

The connections between euthanasia, eugenics and the Holocaust are profound. Either life is sacred and its dignity should never be undermined or all is relative and we will leave the powerful to decide who counts as important and who doesn’t.

If someone really believes their life is worthless they are just wrong.

Simply an Unfortunate Human Being

Can you guess what I felt, Vityenka, once I was behind the barbed wire? I’d expected to feel horror. But just imagine – I actually felt relieved to be inside this cattle-pen. Don’t think it’s because I’m a born slave. No. No. It’s because everyone around me shares my fate now: now I no longer have to walk on the roadway life a horse, there are no more spiteful looks, and the people I know look me straight in the eye instead of trying to avoid me. Everyone in this cattle-pen bears the stamp branded on us by the Fascists and it no longer burns my soul so fiercely. Now I’m no longer a beast deprived of rights – simply an unfortunate human being. And that is easier to bear.

Vasily Grossman, Life and Fate

It may be hard for us to imagine the kind of oppression that makes the camp, the barbed wire or the institution welcome. But it starts when you feel attacked and vulnerable and when being together with others, ‘like you’ creates a source of comfort.

What we so often don’t seem to realise when we see people stigmatised, slandered, and scapegoated by ordinary people and by the powerful – then those people feel deeply hurt and vulnerable. All those empty, lazy stereotypes – the skiving scrounger on the dole – the greedy immigrant stealing our jobs – the fraud pretending to have disability – they all eat away at someone’s soul.

The fact that the stereotype is a lie does not protect the person under attack – in a strange way it makes the stereotype even more toxic – because we find that the truth offers no resistance to the lies of the powerful.

So the weak end by seeking comfort in each other. Too often this ends in tragedy, herded together people are even weaker and easier to attack. But occasionally, just occasionally, people are inspired to resist, to fight back and to demand the justice that others have taken away.

Dog Fox Field

These were no leaders, but they were first
into the dark on Dog Fox Field:
Anna who rocked her head, and Paul
who grew big and yet giggled small,
Irma who looked Chinese, and Hans
who knew his world as a fox knows a field.
Hunted with needles, exposed, unfed,
this time in their thousands they bore sad cuts
for having gazed, and shuffled, and failed
to field the lore of prey and hound
they then had to thump and cry in the vans
that ran while stopped in Dog Fox Field.
Our sentries, whose holocaust does not end,
they show us when we cross into Dog Fox Field.

Les Murray, Dog Fox Field

This poem by the Australian poet Les Murray builds on the fact that in Hitler’s Germany the test for determining whether you could avoid the first gas chambers – which were built for disabled people – was whether you could construct a sentence from the words: dog, fox & field.

Some people know that disabled people were killed during the Holocaust. Few seem to know that they were the first and leading victims of the Holocaust. The technologies of death were developed on them and only later extended to Jews and many others.

I explore some of these ideas in my book The Unmaking of Man and I explore the parallels between our time and the years that led up to the Holocaust where the intentional scapegoating of disabled people, Jews and others flowed from economic anxieties, state and professional power and the abandonment of core moral values.

Disabled people, especially people with severe learning difficulties, are our moral guardians – they “show us when we cross into Dog Fox Field.”

How Euthanasia leads to Eugenics

…a [Nazi] Ministry of Justice Commission on the Reform of the Criminal Code drafted a similar law sanctioning “mercy killing” of people suffering from incurable diseases. The law read, in part: 

“Clause 1 Whoever is suffering from an incurable or terminal illness which is a major burden to him or others, can request mercy killing by a doctor, provided it is his express wish and has the approval of a specially empowered doctor. 

“Clause 2 The life of a person who because of incurable mental illness requires permanent institutionalisation and is not able to sustain an independent existence, may be prematurely terminated by medical procedures in a painless and covert manner.” 

From Forgotten Crimes by Susanne E Evans

Notice that the first clause is almost exactly what those seeking to advance euthanasia in the UK are putting forward as a reasonable legal measure. And notice the easy and natural step to by-passing the question of voluntary choice for those who might be deemed lacking mental capacity.

There is hardly a break between euthanasia and eugenics – the first creates the licence to ignore the dignity of human life, the second gives others the duty to ignore it.

The Centre of Totalitarianism

Just as the stability of the totalitarian regime depends on sealing off the fictitious world of the movement from the outside world, so the experiment of total domination in the concentration camps depends upon sealing off the latter against the world of all others, the world of the living in general, even against the outside world of a country under totalitarian rule. This isolation explains the peculiar unreality and lack of credibility that characterise all reports from the concentration camps and constitute one of the main difficulties for the true understanding of totalitarian domination, which stands or falls with the existence of these concentration and extermination camps; for, unlikely as it may sound, these camps are the true central institution of totalitarian organisational power.

Hannah Arendt from The Origins of Totalitarianism

Many people are rightly nervous of any attempt to compare Hitler’s death camps with any other institution  in world history. After writing the The Origins of Totalitarianism Arendt herself was criticised for comparing the death camps with Stalin’s gulags.

But Arendt’s analysis of the unreality of the camps – the way in which they were sealed off from public view and made to seem ‘impossible’ to many – even in Germany itself – should make us question this prohibition on comparison. Finding some point of comparison does not lessen the evil of the death camps, instead it is a way to make sure we do to forget that evil. To seal the camps of as unique and unrepeatable evil is a failure: a failure to remember, a failure to connect, a failure to honour the dead and a failure to arm ourselves against such evils in the future.

We should be able to see that institutions that hide people away, segregate them from ordinary life and create utter dependence are dangerous and very likely to tip into evil.

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