By Dave Andrusko
“The court-ordered starvation and dehydration death of Terri Schindler Schiavo marked a watershed moment in our nation. Millions of people both here and around the world became suddenly faced the reality that our society is not only willing, but seemingly eager, to treat those with disabilities as if they are expendable.
This tragic case dragged out for years and years before Terri died. As we discussed yesterday, the Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Foundation, originally established by Terri’s Family to save her, has continued on to help others, like Terri, who are facing death by starvation and dehydration. The Foundation has set aside March 31 as “Terri’s Day – An International Day of Prayer and Remembrance for Terri Schindler Schiavo and All of Our Vulnerable Brothers and Sisters.”
Countless stories were written about Terri, mostly by those unsympathetic to her family’s effort to bring her home. No account was any better than that written by pro-lifer Nat Hentoff for the “Human Life Review.” In it, Nat traced society’s progression from the so-called “right to die” to the so-called “duty to die.” All this week PLP will highlight Nat’s thorough scholarship and passionate commitment to life.
As Mrs. Tobias explains, Hentoff tells the story of Dr. Leo Alexander, an Austrian-born professor of psychiatric medicine at Tufts medical School. Dr. Alexander was an expert who served during the Nuremberg trials. After interviewing the German doctors who ran Hitler’s euthanasia program prior to the Holocaust, Dr. Alexander wrote an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in July 1949. Dr. Alexander wrote:
“Whatever proportion the [Nazi’s] crimes finally assumed, it becomes evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. At first, there was merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of physicians. It started with the acceptance, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived.”
The resistance of the medical community had been softened by a hugely influential book, “The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life.” As Richard Evans, author of “The Coming of the Third Reich ” wrote, the authors of this small book “emphasized that the incurable 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.” All this preceded Hitler’s ascension to power.
Quoting from 2003 AP story, Mrs. Tobias tells her readers the magnitude of this initial campaign against the vulnerable:
“A new study reveals Nazi Germany killed at least two hundred thousands people because of their disabilities – people deemed physically inferior…Researchers found evidence that doctors and hospital staff used gas, drugs, and starvation to kill disabled men and women and children at medical facilities in Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic.”
Not long before he died, Dr. Alexander read an article that was signed by ten physicians from distinguished medical schools and institutions. The article appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine and argued that it was quote “morally justifiable” to withdraw nutrition supplements and fluids from various patients, including those deemed to be in a “persistent vegetative state.” These doctors argued that it was perfectly acceptable to withhold these life-sustaining treatments and quote “[allow] the patient to die.”
Dr. Alexander commented to a friend, “It is much like Germany in the 20s and 30s. The barriers against killing are coming down.”
More tomorrow—more about how we are seeing a testing of the waters with arguments regarding a patients so-called “quality of life” and “futile care theory.” Please be sure to listen to PLP at www.prolifeperspective.com and to share that link through your social networks.
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