Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

J. Daryl Charles, Lebensunwertes Leben: The Devolution of Personhood in the Weimar and Pre-Weimar Era

Academic journal article Issues in Law & Medicine

J. Daryl Charles, Lebensunwertes Leben: The Devolution of Personhood in the Weimar and Pre-Weimar Era

Article excerpt

J. Daryl Charles, Lebensunwertes Leben: The Devolution o/Personhood in the Weimar and Pre-Weimar Era, 21 ETHICS & MED. 41 (2005).

Radial social change in most societies does not typically occur "overnight." It requires preparation in the way people think. The rise of euthanasia in western culture is a case in point. In order for assisted death to be increasingly accepted, the social-moral consensus must be altered. Typically, that consensus will be influenced by trends in biology, the behavioral sciences, ethics, law, even economics. Examining the manner in which assisted death was "prepared" in the decades before the ascendency of National Socialism is highly instructive as we witness the rise of pro-euthanasia thinking in our own day several generations removed.

One of the tragic legacies of social Darwinism is that it assisted in giving justification to the elimination of lebensunwertes Leben, life unworthy of living. In addition to the ascendency of biological determinism, an important step in legitimizing the killing of the weak, the infirm, the terminally ill, and the incompetent was the shift in ethos among medical doctors and psychiatrists several decades prior to World War II. In 1933, with the accession of the National Socialists to power, two developments that had reached their critical mass were promptly codified into law. …

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