The Stransham-Ford application for the euthanasia authorised by Judge Fabricius of the North-Gauteng High Court in April 2015, made use of the criteria in the South African Law Reform Commission (SALRC) report on Euthanasia, 1999. While the SALRC strongly denies comparison, lets look at the criteria used by the Nazi vs the SALRC proposals. The following is a newspaper article from the time. It is publicly available on the New York Times web site.
Nazis Plan to Kill Incurables to End Pain; German Religious Groups Oppose Move. (By The Associated Press 8 October 1933)
“Berlin, Oct 7, – The Ministry of Justice, in a detailed memorandum explaining the Nazi aims regarding the German penal code, today announced its intention to authorise physicians to end the sufferings of incurable patients. The memorandum, still lacking the force of law, proposed that “It shall be made possible for physicians to end the tortures of incurable patients, upon request, in the interests of true humanity”. This proposed legal recognition of euthanasia – the act of providing a painless and peaceful death – raised a number of fundamental problems of a religious, scientific and legal nature.
The Catholic newspaper Germania hastened to observe: “The Catholic faith binds the conscience of its followers not to accept this method of shortening the sufferings of incurables who are tormented by pain”. In Lutheran circles too, life is regarded as something that only God alone can take. A large section of the German people, it was expected in some interested circles, might ignore the provisions for euthanasia, which overnight has become a widely discussed word in the Reich.
In medical circles the question was raised as to just when a man is incurable and when his life should be ended. According to the present plans of the Ministry of Justice, incurability would be determined not only by the attending physician, but also by two official doctors who would carefully trace the history of the case and personally examine the patient.
In insisting that euthanasia shall be permissible only if the accredited attending physician is backed by two experts who so advise, the Ministry believes a guarantee is given that no life still valuable to the State will be wantonly destroyed.
The legal question of who may request the application of euthanasia has not been definitely solved. The Ministry merely has proposed that either the patient himself shall “expressly and earnestly” ask it, or “in case the patient no longer is able to express his desire, his nearer relatives, acting from motives that do not contravene morals, shall so request.”
Similarities of Nazi and SA Law Commission proposals
The above article, recently sent to us from a doctors association in the USA, appeared in the New York Times, October 8, 1933. The details of the proposed euthanasia legislation are disturbingly similar to option 2 of clause 5 in the euthanasia bill recently proposed by Mrs Amanda Louw of the South African Law Commission (SALC) at the instigation of the euthanasia lobby: In both cases, the legislation requires that:
- The patient is suffering from a terminal illness. The SALC proposal is more radical than that of the initial Nazi proposal reported above in proposing euthanasia not only for ‘terminal illness’, but also for other conditions causing suffering without reasonable prospect of being cured [Clause 1(1) and Option 2: clause 5(1)(a)]. The SALC proposal is also more radical in including mental suffering [Clause 1(1)], which the Nazi proposal above does not.
- An additional doctor’s opinion is required taking into consideration the patient’s medical history [Option 2: clause 5(2)]. The Nazi euthanasia proposal was for two additional doctors opinions whereas the SALC proposal is less strict and requires only one doctor.
- The patient must expressly ask to be killed. [Option 2: clause 5(1)(e)-(h)].
- Where the patient is no longer able to communicate, euthanasia is allowed if agreed to by near relatives [clause 9(1),9(3)]. Two differences in this instance are firstly that passive euthanasia only [including withdrawal of artificial supply of food and water 8(1); 1(1)] is suggested in the SALC proposals. Secondly, that in the SALC proposal a doctor may initiate euthanasia, whereas in the Nazi case it must be requested by relatives.
In addition, in both cases the proposed legalisation of euthanasia:
- Is claimed to be motivated by a desire to alleviate suffering. [Clause 1(1)]
- Came shortly after abortion (euthanasia of the unborn) became easily available [1920’s in Germany, 1997 in South Africa]
- Was protested against by churches.
- Saw the question of defining incurability being debated by the medical profession [See proposed definition of ‘intractable’ in clause 1(1) of the bill].
The German euthanasia program was not started by the Nazis and it would be unfair to associate all modern euthanasia advocates with Nazi ideology, but it would be equally foolish not to study the historical consequence of a gradual erosion of respect for human life in the medical profession.
While claiming to be motivated by compassion for the suffering, the Nazis gradually increased the number of people eligible for euthanasia. First euthanasia was voluntary. Then it was expanded to the incurably mentally handicapped and mentally ill, for whom the Nazis claimed euthanasia was also a mercy. Some hospitals built gas chambers, designed by local university professors who helped decide who would die. Gradually the criteria for euthanasia were widened to include chronically ill children, schizophrenics and those with mild mental illnesses. Euthanasia doctors, who had blunted their consciences, lied to many patients families about the cause of death.
Hilter argued he would rather spend money on job creation for the poor than care for the mentally ill. The so-called ‘controls’ to approve euthanasia weakened and approval became a ‘rubber stamp process’. When WW2 began he encouraged doctors to accelerate the programme to free hospital beds for the war wounded. Tens of thousands of ‘Aryan Germans’ were killed before criteria for euthanasia were expanded to include the ‘racially unfit’. Euthanasia doctors were employed to oversee gas chambers in the concentration camps and to select who could perform hard labour and who would die.
Mrs Louw of the SALRC has dismissed comparisons between her proposed optional legislation and that of Nazi Germany saying that the Nazi’s motivation was neither mercy nor respect for autonomy (“Project 86 Euthanasia and the artificial preservation of life”, p134). Speaking from Pretoria today (6 October), Mrs Louw declined to comment on the above 1933 article. She said that reference to the Nazi’s had an emotional connotation and that the ideas of the people motivating the current proposals were different. She said that options 2 and 3 (of Clause 5), which would legalise doctor assisted suicide and mercy killing were taken from submissions received. The proposed bill, she said was included in the report as an example of a possible euthanasia law and had not yet been submitted to parliament.
The SALRC report correctly identifies an important ideological difference between the Nazi German and those in the SA Law Commission optional proposals: the national socialist (Nazi) emphasis on the interests of the nation versus the modern euthanasia lobby’s emphasis on the absolute autonomy of the individual. Nevertheless, in its early stages, the German euthanasia program also claimed to be motivated by mercy for suffering people. While the SALRC optional proposals for active euthanasia are similar to the initial Nazi proposals, the Nazi euthanasia programme further degraded respect for human life or racial, political and economic purposes.
Following the historical progression of the thinking of the German euthanasia programme, some modern euthanasia advocates overseas are now arguing in favour of legalising infanticide of handicapped infants. If abortion is legal until the moment of birth, they argue – why not a make it legal until a few days or even a month after birth? As with abortion, what was unthinkable in one generation may be tolerated by the next.
The New York Times article 66 years before the SALRC proposal indicates the need for more careful historical research on the consequences of undermining respect for the value of human life.