Reflections on “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race”

By Dave Andrusko

Editor’s note. I drive by the Holocaust Museum every day on my way to work. There are often very long lines. This morning the line was so lengthy it caught my eye. “Some were neighbors: Collaboration & Complicity in the Holocaust” is the primary current museum exhibit. When we go to the Holocaust Museum’s web page we read, “’Some Were Neighbors’ examines a variety of motives and pressures that influenced individual choices to act.”

This immediately made me think of a piece I once wrote about an exhibit which helped me see in a new light certain “motives and pressures.” Not only did doctors and scientists lay the foundation for the Holocaust, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” helped me to understand that under the sway of eugenics, it was not a large leap at all from killing “defectives” to the mass murder of six million Jews.

Over the years many of our readers have written and emailed to tell me how much they enjoy Wesley Smith’s blog entries, which he so generously allows me to reprint. It’s not just the quality of his work that is so worth reading, it is Wesley’s keen insight into the mind of “bioethicists.”

I try to avoid analogizing the arguments offered by many contemporary American bioethicists to the awful, monstrous rationalizations that the Medical Establishment provided for the Nazis—both in the early decades of the 20th century and when Adolph Hitler assumed power. Sometimes, however, it’s hard not to draw parallels.

I mention that because I read yesterday about the traveling exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” which is now at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Tooling around the web, I learned that version draws its inspiration from “the acclaimed exhibition of the same name that originally opened at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in April 2004.”

Reading a story in the Los Angeles Times about the exhibit reinforced so many lessons, so many warnings from Wesley and the late Rev. Richard John Neuhaus. The Times’ Eryn Brown wrote

“But ‘Deadly Medicine’ also aims to show that doctors’ and scientists’ role in the Holocaust wasn’t limited to measuring noses or conducting gruesome experiments in concentration camps. The exhibit argues that by advancing the theory of eugenics–and then providing cover for the Nazi regime when it used that theory to buttress its racist and genocidal policies– German scientists helped lay the foundation upon which the Holocaust was built.”

Brown correctly picks up on a crucial argument made by the exhibit. “But most of the exhibit’s artifacts illustrate the dark side of Nazi eugenics, in which scientists called for mass sterilization–and eventually ‘euthanasia’–for people with a variety of sometimes haphazardly defined physical and mental illnesses.”

She then shrewdly observes,

“It wasn’t a terribly long leap, the exhibit suggests, from the (comparatively limited, though still horrifying) task of sterilizing or killing the ill to coordinating the mass murder of ethnic groups that the Nazis–and their scientists –deemed defective, including Jews. ‘The euthanasia program provided a model for the much larger project that was to come,’ [curator Susan] Bachrach [of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum] said.”

It is obviously not true of all doctors or bioethicists. But whenever any of them start provided justifications to exclude members of the human family from the circle of legal protection, they must be called on it and stopped cold in their tracks.