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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

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Sunday, January 23, 2005

The legacy of Nazi Medicine


The New Atlantis - The Legacy of Nazi Medicine - Naomi Schaefer

Naomi Schaefer, writes about a new exhibit at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum entitled "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race":
The exhibit... focuses on the period from 1933 to 1945. It traces the rise of "positive eugenics" in Germany’s public health campaigns, to the forced sterilization programs, to the euthanasia of mentally and physically disabled children and adults, to the inhuman experiments on Jews and other prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. It shows how the eugenic idea took hold of German scientists and the German public, and how it degenerated to the systematic use and slaughter of the "unfit" in the Final Solution.

Schaefer reminds us that the dangers of creating a "master race" are still with us and that the "normalization and bureaucratization of murder" displayed in "Deadly Medicine" has unsettling parallels to our own time:
It is surely worthwhile to show the eugenic mindset in its beginning stages, but the creators of the exhibit should have devoted more space to its ghastly end stages, when the great evil of eugenics-gone-mad was most vivid. But this weakness is also, perhaps, its strength. Only by understanding the rise of eugenics in Weimar Germany can we grasp how even a supposedly humanitarian science can end, as Flannery O’Connor put it, "in forced labor camps and in the fumes of the gas chamber."

O’Connor’s point was also a warning. What we are discovering in our own time is that nations built on the principles of individual rights and human equality may have their own reasons for pursuing eugenics—a "soft eugenics" of personal choice, not a totalitarian eugenics of racial purity and mass slaughter. In America, parents are free to choose "fit" children and abort the "unfit", and many defenders of equality seem to believe that we should use our genetic knowledge to ensure that our offspring have the "best genetic endowments". While it is perverse to compare our own baby-making practices to the German programs of sterilization and euthanasia, the exhibit could not have come at a better time.

Our tools for predicting the likelihood of certain genetic illnesses are much more accurate today, and perhaps even more widely used. Couples with family histories of hereditary disease often consult with geneticists to see whether they should try to have children together. Women who decide to keep a baby with Down syndrome rather than abort it are considered by many to be downright irresponsible. And there are even more extreme voices, like Peter Singer, who believe the mentally or physically handicapped should be killed before they become a burden on the rest of society.

4:06:00 pm