The ghastly decision of the Belgian Parliament to legalise the euthanasia of children has rightly drawn much comment from Catholic journalists and bloggers, many of whom have referred to the Nazi euthanasia programme. I thought it would be helpful to look more closely at the origins of this
Some years ago, I wrote a post called "The life thou gavest, Lord, we've ended" which drew on an article written in 1980 by Malcolm Muggeridge: The Humane Holocaust. See the article for more details but essentially, Muggeridge pointed out that euthanasia for the mentally ill and physically disabled was introduced in Germany in the 1920s, before the Nazi movement had gained any prominence. It was doctors and psychiatrists who pushed the programme on utilitarian grounds. When the Nazis developed Aktion T4, they extended euthanasia to children, vastly increased the numbers who were killed, and extended the grounds from disability to race. But the perverted legal and medical justification for the programme had already been established.
The sinister phrase "life unworthy of life" was not invented by the Nazis but was used by German psychiatrist Alfred Hoche and jurist Karl Bilding in the title of their book, published in 1920, Die Freigabe der Vernichtung Lebensunwerten Lebens ("The authorisation of the destruction of life unworthy of life.")
Binding argued in this book that suicide itself was not illegal (he further argued that it was a "human right") and that therefore assisted suicide should also be permitted. He went on to argue that the direct killing of the terminally ill was not unlawful since it was in the best interests of the patient. He argued for the legalisation of killing those who were incurably mentally ill (and therefore had a life unworthy of life), and those who were unconscious because of injury and would wake to nameless suffering. He wanted there to be a committee to decide on such killings on a case-by-case basis. Consider how familiar the argument in this quotation sounds to us in England today:
In legislative terms, the question could also be posed this way: whether the vigorous continued preservation of such lives, as evidence of the inviolability of life, deserves preference, or whether permitting their termination, to the relief of everyone involved, would seem the lesser evil.One important factor in Germany for a while was the opposition of the Catholic Church to euthanasia in 1933. This even caused the Nazis to pause: although ultimately it might seem that their resistance was futile, many lives were saved because of the courageous resistance of the German bishops.
In order to soften up the people to accept more widespread euthanasia, the Nazis used films showing people suffering from physical and mental disability and the merciful release of euthanasia. In the film Ich klage an ("I accuse")of 1941, an attractive woman with multiple sclerosis is shown being gently killed by her loving husband. Invoke "Godwin's Law" if you will, I cannot resist the comparison between this and the determined effort to soften up our own people by emotional scenes in popular dramas and educational films shown in schools to "stimulate discussion."