Eugenics, a Long Way Since Auschwitz

Deadly Programs Targeting Young and Old Alike

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WASHINGTON, D.C., JAN. 29, 2005 ( The vulnerability of human life was driven home this past week with two important commemorations. In Poland, Thursday’s 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp brought to mind once more the horror of the Nazi regime’s extermination program. And, in the United States, pro-life groups organized events to recall the 1973 Supreme Court decision that introduced legal abortion in all nine months of pregnancy.

“Thirty-two years later, the evil of Roe v. Wade persists, the blood of innocents continues to stain our Constitution,” declaimed Cardinal William Keeler in his homily last Sunday at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington. “The loss of more than 40 million unborn children should haunt our national consciousness.”

The loss of innocent lives continues apace, in many areas. BBC reported last Sunday that Dutch doctors have admitted killing 22 terminally ill babies since 1997. None of the doctors were charged, even though euthanasia for children is illegal in the Netherlands.

Details on the killings came in a study published in the Dutch Journal of Medicine and involved babies with severe cases of spina bifida. A survey suggests that about 15 to 20 disabled newborns are killed each year by Dutch doctors, but most of these cases go unreported, BBC reported.

The Dutch practice of eliminating deformed babies was also the subject of an article Dec. 26 in the London-based Telegraph. Eduard Verhagen, head of pediatrics at Groningen Hospital, defended the actions, saying that administering poison to the infants offered a “humane option” instead of forcing them to suffer. Verhagen said the Dutch government was in the midst of formulating rules that would allow doctors to carry out euthanasia on infants.

But Gronigen’s Catholic bishop, Wim Eijk, told the British newspaper that the state has no right to authorize doctors to end the life of infants, who are incapable of giving consent to their own deaths.

“To reduce suffering”

“This is a Darwinian nightmare and a grave violation of the laws of God,” said a spokesman for the bishop. “It is crossing a boundary thus far prohibited in every code. Euthanasia for children in circumstances where it is not possible to seek or secure the consent of those affected. It is a slippery slope that will give doctors the right to impose life or death, and will lead to an argument that it should be extended to all.”

Fears of where a further relaxation of rules for euthanasia might lead, were confirmed in a Jan. 8 report by the British Medical Journal. A three-year inquiry commissioned by the Royal Dutch Medical Association concluded that doctors should be able to help people die who, though not physically ill, are “suffering through living.”

The law governing euthanasia does not specifically state that a patient must have a physical or mental condition, only that a patient must be “suffering hopelessly and unbearably,” noted the article. But in 2002 the nation’s Supreme Court ruled that a patient must have a “classifiable physical or mental condition.” The decision came after a doctor was charged with helping an 86-year-old patient die, who was not ill but obsessed with his physical decline and “hopeless” existence.

According to Jos Dijkhuis, the retired professor of clinical psychology who led the inquiry, “We see a doctor’s task is to reduce suffering, therefore we can’t exclude these cases in advance. We must now look further to see if we can draw a line and if so where.” Yet, the report admits that doctors lack sufficient expertise in this area.

The article quoted Henk Jochemsen, director of the anti-euthanasia Lindeboom Institute for Medical Ethics, as saying that the report points to dangerous signs. In effect, Jochemsen warned, “We as a society should say to people who feel their life has lost meaning: ‘Right, you had better go away.'”

Going for the best baby

Other recent declarations seem to hearken back to a mentality reminiscent of Nazi programs designed to improve racial quality. “If you’re going to have a child, you should have the best child you can,” said Julian Savulescu during a seminar last year at Melbourne University in Australia last year.

According to a Nov. 16 report in The Age newspaper, Savulescu, a professor at Oxford University and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, urged parents to use genetic technologies to have the “best” child possible.

Savulescu speculated that someday parents might be able to use these methods even to select behavioral traits and other characteristics. He recommended that parents make choices based on what they judge to be “the best opportunity for their child.”

In Britain, meanwhile, a former president of the Family Planning Association, Baroness Flather, recommended that the poor should avoid having large numbers of children, the Times reported Dec. 5. The peer, who is now a director of Marie Stopes International, one of Britain’s largest abortion providers, was immediately accused of advocating eugenics.

In the United States, screening embryos to eliminate those suffering from genetic defects is growing in popularity. A Wall Street Journal report Nov. 23 noted that such screening is more widely used, now that health insurance is covering its high cost. Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can cost $4,000 to $5,000, plus the accompanying in vitro fertilization treatment of around $8,000.

Breeding out defects

About 1,500 babies worldwide have been born through PGD since it started, according to Yury Verlinsky, director of the Reproductive Genetics Institute, a Chicago lab and fertility clinic. “PGD is exploding,” added William Kearns, director of the Shady Grove Center for Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis in Rockville, Maryland.

Across the Atlantic, in Scotland, couples may soon be able to obtain PGD through the National Health Scheme, according to a Dec. 19 report in the newspaper Scotland on Sunday. Treatment by doctors at Glasgow Royal Infirmary have led to five PGD babies, and the hospital has asked for public funding to treat more couples.

The move was strongly criticized by Ian Murray, Scottish director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child. “We are totally opposed to this procedure in principle and we find it very sad that Glasgow Royal Infirmary [is] applying for funding,” he said. “It has no therapeutic value and amounts to eugenics. It does nothing for disabled people, it just kills people who have disabilities.”

“Sixty years ago we were condemning Nazi doctors for eugenics,” said Murray. “Pre-implantation genetic diagnosis is no better.”

In an opinion article Dec. 27 in the Scotsman newspaper, Dec Katie Grant pointed out that PGD is not about curing disease: “The disease is wiped out, not through repairing the faulty gene, but through embryos being created, then screened, with unhealthy ones discarded and healthy ones implanted.”

“The idea — to breed out defects — is eugenics, pure and simple,” Grant wrote, “and we do society and ourselves a disservice by resorting to euphemisms for no better reason than that we are nervous of the negative connotations ever since Hitler took it up in a big way.”

Using human ingenuity to help people live better is a laudable goal, she commented. But, she asked: “Is it a proper function of human beings to act as creator then executioner?” Improper though the practice might be, it is becoming increasingly common.

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