Appendix 1: Nazi Euthanasia

By Fenigsen, Richard; Fenigsen, Ryszard | Issues in Law & Medicine, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview

Appendix 1: Nazi Euthanasia


Fenigsen, Richard, Fenigsen, Ryszard, Issues in Law & Medicine


The modern movement in favor of euthanasia has been often accused of trying to repeat the practices of the Nazis, and with equal insistence its representatives have repudiated these allegations. Due to inaccuracies in arguing, and thinking, the dispute has trailed for a long time without a conclusion. People tend to assume that to show a Nazi precedent of an action is enough to condemn it. It is not. Due to the same mental short circuit, the modern proponents of euthanasia feel obligated to repudiate every allegation of a Nazi link without examining whether it is true.

From October, 1939, till August 24, 1941, doctors involved in "Aktion T4" (707) and their collaborators killed 70,273 inmates of German psychiatric hospitals and asylums. (708) Some estimates came up with a higher figure, of 80,000 persons killed. (709) In the same period, in occupied Poland, German medical and military personnel took over the psychiatric hospitals and killed all patients; the number of victims was about 20,000. (710) Five thousand disabled German children perished in the so-called Kinderaktion. (711)

The extermination of people with physical and mental disabilities under the Nazi regime has been thoroughly researched, and a good deal of what happened has been described: people dying in chambers filled with carbon monoxide, misleading letters sent to families, false death certificates, infernal scenes during the abduction and transportation of patients, doctors involved in Kinderaktion who read the "reporting forms" and decided every child's fate, and professors who provided the scientific rationale.

Is Nazi euthanasia relevant to our present problems? According to the representatives of the modern movement in favor of euthanasia or assisted suicide, it is not. (712) Our movement is an assembly of decent, humane, highly conscientious people concerned with the rights and dignity of the individual. What we do, or intend to do, cannot have anything in common with what the Nazis did. We campaign for the freedom of choice while the Nazis carried out a compulsory extermination of the sick. Nazi euthanasia was brought about by the inhuman totalitarian state, carried out by a bunch of degenerate criminals, and ended with the crushing of the Third Reich. It is lunacy to think that our democratic society could ever repeat such horrors. (713)

This is reassuring, but some of its assumptions are not entirely correct, and some are entirely incorrect.

"Nazi euthanasia was carried out by a bunch of cynical criminals." This is true enough of many of those directly involved in the killings, the likes of Victor Brack, Dr. Hermann Pfannmuller, and their assistants.

But the psychiatrists, pediatricians, and anthropologists who conceived and planned the euthanasia program, professors at Berlin's Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, and at the universities of Heidelberg, Gottingen, Halle, Leipzig, and Munchen, including Eugen Fischer, Otmar yon Verschuer, Ernst Rudin, Fritz Lenz, Carl Schneider, Hans F.K. Gunther, Werner Catel, and others were the country's intellectual elite, comparable with the faculty and the top researchers of ivy-league schools in America. In fact, the status of these German intellectuals was even loftier, due to the nation's unwavering faith in and reverence for scientific authorities.

No, not a bunch of lowly criminals, but Germany's best and brightest presided over Nazi euthanasia.

"Our intentions are good and charitable while the motives of those who organized and carried out Nazi euthanasia were vile." A half-truth again. What were the Nazis' intentions? The Nazi propagandists spent several years persuading the public that "elimination of useless eaters" would spare so many tons of flour, marmalade, margarine, and vegetables. (714) Only a very superficial observer would buy this argument. Mass murders are not committed in order to gain some flour and marmalade.

Hitler did reveal his true motives in killing the handicapped and mentally ill: It was hate, contempt, and repugnance. …

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Appendix 1: Nazi Euthanasia
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