Nat Hentoff continues his Schiavo crusade with an article titled It’s Not Only About Terri Schiavo. Hentoff makes some chilling comparisons between the Schiavo situation and the Nazis’ disregard for the lives of those who were disabled. Here are some excerpts:
In 1920, a prominent German lawyer, Karl Binding, and a distinguished German forensic psychiatrist, Alfred Hoche, wrote a brief but deadly book, The Permission To Destroy Life Unworthy of Life. . . . Binding and Hoche emphasized that “the incurably ill and the mentally retarded were costing millions of marks and taking up thousands of much-needed hospital beds. So doctors should be allowed to put them to death.”
Then came Adolf Hitler, who thought this was a splendid, indeed capital, idea. The October 1, 2003, New York Daily News ran this Associated Press report from Berlin:
“A new study reveals Nazi Germany killed at least 200,000 people because of their disabilities—people deemed physically inferior, said a report compiled by Germany’s Federal Archive. . . .”
. . . .
Among the defendants at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders and their primary accomplices in the mass murder were German doctors who had gone along with the official policy of euthanasia. An American doctor, Leo Alexander, who spoke German, had interviewed the German physician-defendants before the trials, and then served as an expert on the American staff at Nuremberg.
In an article in the July 14, 1949, New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Alexander warned that the Nazis’ crimes against humanity had “started from small beginnings . . . merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.” That shift in emphasis among physicians, said Dr. Alexander, could happen here, in America.
. . . .
Not long before he died, Dr. Alexander read an article in the April 12, 1984, New England Journal of Medicine by 10 physicians—part of the growing “death with dignity” brigade. They were from such prestigious medical schools as Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Virginia. These distinguished healers wrote that when a patient was in a “persistent vegetative state,” it was “morally justifiable” to “withhold antibiotics and artificial nutrition (feeding tubes) and hydration, as well as other forms of life-sustaining treatment, allowing the patient to die.” They ignored the finding that not all persistent vegetative states are permanent.
After reading the article, Dr. Alexander said to a friend: “It is much like Germany in the ’20s and ’30s. The barriers against killing are coming down.”
Please do not e-mail me to tell me that I am claiming that anyone who thinks Terri Schiavo should be allowed to die is no better than a Nazi. I do not believe Hentoff is making such an argument, and I would endorse no such argument. I fully understand that, at least in theory (as determined by some probate judge in Florida), this is a decision that Terri Schiavo made herself.
But I do share Hentoff’s concern that we be careful about labeling lives as not worth living. Of all the slippery slopes in the world, this is one of the worst. Best to stay on completely level ground.