Sunday, November 23, 2008

Adolf Hitler in the late 1930s started the T4 Aktion (Action) program, named after the main office’s address at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin, to exterminate “useless eaters,” babies born with disabilities. When any baby was born in Germany, the attending nurse had to note any indication of disability and immediately notify T4 officials - a team of physicians, politicians and military leaders. In October 1939 Hitler issued a directive allowing physicians to grant a “mercy death” to “patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health.”

Thereafter, the program expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities, and anyone anywhere in the Third Reich was subject to execution who was blind, deaf, senile, retarded, or had any significant neurological condition, encephalitis, epilepsy, muscular spasticity or paralysis. Six killing centers were eventually established, and an estimated quarter-million people with disabilities were executed.

As the Rev. Briane K. Turley, a scholar, author and Anglican Church rector in Tulsa, Okla., puts it ruefully in a column for VirtureOnline, “Here in North America, since the 1970s, we have discovered a far more efficient means of weeding out those with disabilities.” Besides legalizing physician-assisted suicide (Oregon and Washington State) or decriminalizing it (in many other states), “we legally abort more than 1,000,000 infants each year (nearly 25 percent of all pregnancies), a large percentage of whom are selected on the basis of their perceived ability or disability,” he says.

“Were God’s design for us left unhindered,” he says, “we could naturally expect to welcome 40,000 or more newborn infants with Down syndrome each year in the U.S. And yet we have reduced that number to just under 5,500. These data strongly indicate that, in North America, we have already discovered a new, ‘final solution’ for these unusual children and need only to adapt our public policies to, as it were, ‘cure’ all Down syndrome cases.” Mr. Turley blames prenatal screening for encouraging abortions - a sort of prenatal T4 program.

The trend is ominous. Genetic scientists say that cystic fibrosis could be eliminated by a compulsory program of selective abortion. Princeton University bioethicist Peter Singer says, “Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person.” Mr. Turley charges that “there is growing evidence suggesting that, among health care practitioners and systems, the central motivation behind legally enforced or high pressure screenings is economics,” and the results seem to bear him out.

America’s T4 program - trivialization of abortion, acceptance of euthanasia, and the normalization of physician assisted suicide - is highly unlikely to be stopped at the judicial, administrative or legislative levels anytime soon, given the Supreme Court’s current and probable future makeup during the Obama administration, the administrative predilections that are likely from that incoming administration, and the makeup of the new Congress.

Instead, it will be up to everyone who sees the current climate as a budding T4 program to win the hearts and minds of deniers, many or most of them people of good will who have let “choice” become a blind substitute or palliative for the stark fact that a “mercy death” at any age is the killing of human life. Period. That won’t be a final solution to end the deaths, but it may stanch them and stop the forward progression of extermination (there is no other word for it) from prenatal to postnatal to child to adult that is so seductively “rational” - and horrifying.

Where are all the religious denominations, people of faith, health organizations, physicians and other people who simply know a human life is not to be toyed with?

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