EUROPE: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Euthanasia for infants: Europe's shame
, June 21, 2014
The Spanish philosopher George Santayana said that those who fail to learn from history will end up repeating its mistakes. This has certainly been the case in secular Europe, which I recently visited. It seems we have learned nothing from the horrors of the 20th century, including the horrors of Nazi genocide.
Pro-euthanasia Belgian MP,
With the Netherlands and Belgium having recently legalised the killing of children via euthanasia, it is clear that historical amnesia and moral myopia are a major problem in Europe.
But it is even worse than that: for this is not a case of merely forgetting, but of deliberately repeating the mistakes of the past.
In February this year, the following ominous development in Belgium was reported: “Twelve years after legalising euthanasia for adults, Belgium’s parliament … extended the right to die to terminally ill children of any age, despite opposition from the Catholic Church and some paediatricians.
“After months of heated debate, the lower house of representatives adopted the legislation by a large majority, making the largely Catholic country the second after The Netherlands to allow mercy-killing for children, and the first to lift all age restrictions.
“The ground-breaking legislation was adopted by 86 votes in favour, 44 against and with 12 abstentions. Belgium is one of three countries in Europe to allow euthanasia for adults….
“Unlike The Netherlands, where euthanasia is allowed for children older than 12, the law states that any incurably sick child may request to end their suffering if ‘conscious’ and equipped with ‘a capacity of discernment’. ‘The right to life and death cannot be restricted to adults,’ liberal MP Daniel Bacquelaine said.
“Addressing controversy over the decision not to set an age restriction for ‘discernment’, he said a child’s ‘legal age isn’t the same as mental age’.” (The Australian, February 15, 2014).
Plenty of commentary came forth over this monstrous decision. Here I wish to remind News Weekly readers of similar developments just some seven and eight decades ago. Euthanasia was of course a big part of the Nazi killing machine. And it had widespread support and was willingly implemented by the scientific and medical communities.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Here was a perfect example of medicine without morality, and we are seeing it play out once again in today’s Europe. Of real concern was the fact that Hitler and the Nazis very strongly promoted child euthanasia. Entire volumes have been written documenting these horrific policies and practices.
Let me here simply quote from a few of these many volumes. Henry Friedlander’s important volume, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (University of North Carolina Press, 1995), contains plenty of information on this. Hitler first began with child euthanasia, then moved on to adult-killing.
Children were killed right up to the end of World War II, and with many records not surviving, we can only roughly estimate, but it seems at least 5,000 children were killed by this program. During the late 1930s, the child euthanasia program began.
Writes Friedlander: “At first, it included only infants and small children, none above the age of three. But later older children were also included, and eventually even teens were killed in the children’s wards.”
Handicapped children were the first to be killed. A program was established, with physicians heading it up, to kill children with physical and mental defects.
Killing methods included starvation and the use of medication. To create the façade of moral legitimacy, the authorities used regularly administered medicines found in all medical facilities, but “they became lethal only in increased dosages”. Friedlander says: “The children were therefore killed not as a result of the ingestion of alien poisons but through an overdose of a common medicine.”
While some medical personnel were hesitant, plenty took to their task with great relish: “These physicians were ambitious, anxious to fulfil their quotas, and they complained if not enough children were sent to them. The Reich Committee rewarded good work; a productive killing ward staff received a financial bonus.
“The Reich Committee children were killed because they did not fit into the projected future German society. In addition, however, the physicians were eager to use their deaths to advance science and their own training.… The euthanasia killings also served as a laboratory for the ‘advancement of science’.”
Robert Jay Lifton also deals with this in his book, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (Basic Books, 1986). He writes: “Hitler had an intense interest in direct medical killing. His first known expression of intention to eliminate the ‘incurably ill’ was made to Dr Gerhard Wagner at the Nuremberg Party rally of 1935….
“Toward the end of 1938, the Nazi regime was receiving requests from relatives of newborns or very young infants with severe deformities and brain damage for the granting of a mercy killing. These requests had obviously been encouraged, and were channelled directly to the Chancellery — that is, to Hitler’s personal office.
Lifton continues: “Before being killed, children were generally kept for a few weeks in the institution in order to convey the impression that they were being given some form of medical therapy.”
And there were plenty of such “institutions” around.
“Eventually a network of some thirty killing areas within existing institutions was set up throughout Germany and in Austria and Poland. They could thus handle the volume of children designated for killing and at the same time provide the service close to the homes of the families involved — a saving in money and transportation and a means of rendering parents more amenable to accepting the necessary transfers.”
Much more can be said about this institutionalised and state-sanctioned child killing; but it should be clear that no matter how much the killer-doctors of today try to distance themselves from what took place then, we can already see plenty of eerie similarities, and see how the slippery slope will only get worse.
One person who knows all about the pressure to go the route of euthanasia is Joni Eareckson Tada. Earlier this year she wrote a piece for Time magazine on Belgium’s legislation. It is a very important article, so let me share parts of it here.
She wrote: “It should be in our nature as adults to protect our young. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child serves as our global monitor to safeguard children — especially boys and girls who suffer from illnesses or disabilities. Article 5 states, ‘[The child] has a right to special care if handicapped in any way’.
“Is ‘special care’ now three grams of Phenobarbital in the veins if that child despairs of his handicapping condition? I don’t understand how civilised society can defend the right to life of a child with a serious medical condition while abandoning that child at his greatest point of need.
“We have long held that children do not have the cognitive ability to make adult decisions; this is why they are considered minors. We limit a minor’s decision on tobacco, drugs and alcohol until they are adults; yet somehow Belgium believes that a minor can make a decision about taking his or her own life.
“Giving little ones a choice usually means that they make decisions based on what they think their families want to hear. When it comes to a choice to die, that’s a terrible burden to place on a child.
“Boys and girls do not take into account the future; they cannot project what life might be like with a permanent disability or a long-term illness. We adults understand how our decisions impact the future, and we understand that we need to teach this skill to our children. It’s distressing that a life-or-death choice is being granted to young ones who haven’t yet learned this critical life skill.”
She concludes: “After I broke my neck in a 1967 diving accident and learned I would be paralysed for the rest of my life, I was convinced my life was not worth living. Had it been legal, most people would have thought that euthanasia was a rational choice for me, a depressed 17-year-old quadriplegic waning away in a hospital for almost two years.
“However, time — that prized commodity which is forever lost after you die — taught me how precious life really is, even with hands that don’t work and feet that don’t walk. Now, decades later, millions of people have been encouraged because of our ministry for special-needs families at Joni and Friends International Disability Center.
“If I had chosen death, none of that could have happened.
“And the ‘slippery slope’? Once it is determined that the life-value of a person with a serious medical condition is less than that without such conditions, society has taken one more step away from its charge to defend the child and family. Choice then moves to an obligation to die.
“None of us knows what the future holds and what can be accomplished in our lifetimes, and it grieves me to think of decades of fruitful lives snuffed out because of the fear of pain or disability. I hope it grieves you, too” (Time, February 19, 2014).
It does grieve me deeply. But, tragically, it seems we have forgotten the lessons of history.
The phrase “never again” seems to now be falling on deaf ears.
God help us all.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
Robert Jay Lifton, The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide (New York: Basic Books, 1986; 2000).
Henry Friedlander, The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).
“Belgians give ill kids right to die”, The Australian, February 15, 2014.
Joni Eareckson Tada, “Belgium’s euthanasia law doesn’t protect children from themselves”, Time magazine, February 19, 2014.