Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #124 Interview II with Wesley J. Smith

Listen: Side 1 | Side 2

In addition to reviewing material from FTR-117, the broadcast sets forth additional material from Smith’s book Forced Exit: The Slippery Slope From Assisted Suicide to Legalized Murder (hardcover edition, Times Books, copyright 1997). Particular emphasis is on Peter Singer, a bio-ethicist recently appointed to the faculty of Princeton University. A champion of the “Right to Die Movement,” Singer’s views have been compared with those of social philosophers whose work paved the way for the Third Reich’s “Aktion T-4” euthanasia program. One of the main texts affecting the German euthanasia movement was Binding and Hoche’s On the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Life. In Forced Exit, Smith compares the text of a legal decision by Judge Stephen Reinhardt with key passages from the Binding and Hoche text, a major influence on Hitler’s social philosophy. Other highlights of the program include: an analysis of the difficulty physicians have in diagnosing and treating depression (many “candidates” for euthanasia are clinically depressed and, therefore, treatable); the difficulty physicians have in accurately diagnosing ‘persistent vegetative states” (many so-called “brain-dead” patients are misdiagnosed and, in some cases, conscious but unable to communicate); and the economic imperatives being imposed on physicians by for-profit HMOs.


One comment for “FTR #124 Interview II with Wesley J. Smith”

  1. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel recently excoriated GOP Senator Bill Cassidy, the co-sponsor of the GOP’s latest health care bill, for lying to Kimmel back in July about Cassidy’s commitment to only back a health care bill that passes “The Kimmel Test”. The “Kimmel Test” is a term that Cassidy himself coined when he promised Kimmel that Cassidy would only support a health care bill that ensured children born with expensive medical complications – like Jimmey Kimmel’s recently born son with a congenital heart condition – would be able to get the medical treatment they need to live a full life. That includes treatment to address the immediate medical need, like multiple expensive heart surgeries, but also access to life insurance coverage without lifetime caps (caps which can easily be exceeded for people with expensive conditions). And the Kimmel Test isn’t limited to new born infants but is supposed to include everyone. In other words, Senator Cassidy promised Kimmel during that interview that he wouldn’t support a health care bill that basically says, “Ok, this person’s life it too expensive to maintain.” It’s the kind of thing that should be a no-brainer for a modern, decent society.

    And, Of course, Cassidy’s new bill completely fails that test. It’s a “Let ’em die (eventually, when they run out of financial resources)!” bill.

    So given the GOP’s seemingly endless attempts to “repeal and replace” Obamacare include seemingly endless attempts to significantly gut Medicaid and leave the United States without any sort of meaningful health care safety-net for the poor, elderly, and disabled, it’s worth keeping mind that these goals – goals which are guaranteed to send millions of Americans to an early grave – aren’t just morally outrageous on their own. They also end up complicating an array of other inherently difficult moral questions. Questions where the answers are predicated on the basic decency of the society asking them. In particular, the questions surrounding assisted suicide, allowing people to die compassionately and on their own terms, and how many resources should be spent to keep people alive when doing so is expensive.

    On their own these are inevitably going to be difficult question, but they’re also the kinds of issues that become a lot harder to answer the more and more is seems like society doesn’t care if people die. And if there’s one overarching theme to the contemporary GOP’s agenda it’s an agenda to restructure society in such a way where people without the financial means are simply allowed to fall through the cracks and die. A society where we are not ‘all in it together’. That’s the goal and it’s the kind of goal that’s going to inevitably make issues like assisted suicide and whether or not people with expensive medical conditions should be given those resources much harder to answer. Or perhaps easier to answer since the answer will inevitably be “we don’t have the resources to care for you…good luck!”

    Questions like “is health care a right?” are still open questions for American society. And one of the two major parties appears to be determined to gut Medicaid, a program designed to be a last resort for not just the poor but for a wide variety of people with lifelong expensive conditions. As such, it’s going to be tragically important to not forget that the disabled and those deemed to be physically unfit were the first victims of the Nazis (and the US has its own history in this area):

    The New York Times

    The Nazis’ First Victims Were the Disabled

    Kenny Fries
    SEPT. 13, 2017

    I sit facing the young German neurologist, across a small table in a theater in Hamburg, Germany. I’m here giving one-on-one talks called “The Unenhanced: What Has Happened to Those Deemed ‘Unfit’,” about my research on Aktion T4, the Nazi “euthanasia” program to exterminate the disabled.

    “I’m afraid of what you’re going to tell me,” the neurologist says.

    I’m not surprised. I’ve heard similar things before. But this time is different — the young man sitting across from me is a doctor. Aktion T4 could not have happened without the willing participation of German doctors.

    I have a personal stake in making sure this history is remembered. In 1960, I was born missing bones in both legs. At the time, some thought I should not be allowed to live. Thankfully, my parents were not among them.

    I first discovered that people with disabilities were sterilized and killed by the Nazis when I was a teenager, watching the TV mini-series “Holocaust” in 1978. But it would be years before I understood the connections between the killing of the disabled and the killing of Jews and other “undesirables,” all of whom were, in one way or another, deemed “unfit.”

    The neurologist does not know much about what I’m telling him. While he does know that approximately 300,000 disabled people were killed in T4 and its aftermath, he doesn’t know about the direct connection between T4 and the Holocaust. He doesn’t know that it was at Brandenburg, the first T4 site, where methods of mass killing were tested, that the first victims of Nazi mass killings were the disabled, and that its personnel went on to establish and run the extermination camps at Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

    Three years earlier, when I first arrived in Germany, I was consistently confronted with the treatment of those with disabilities under the Third Reich. But I soon realized I had to go back even farther. In the 1920s, the disabled were mistreated, sterilized, experimented on and killed in some German psychiatric institutions. In 1920, the psychiatrist Alfred Hoche and the jurist Karl Binding published their treatise, “Permitting the Destruction of Unworthy Life,” which became the blueprint for the exterminations of the disabled carried out by the Third Reich.

    In Dr. Ewald Melzer’s 1923 survey of the parents of the disabled children in his care, they were asked: “Would you agree definitely to a painless shortcut of your child’s life, after it is determined by experts that it is incurably stupid?” The results, which surprised Melzer, were published in 1925: 73 percent responded they were willing to have their children killed if they weren’t told about it.

    I am also Jewish. At the Karl Bonhoeffer psychiatric hospital in the Berlin suburb of Wittenau, where the exhibition “A Double Stigma: The Fate of Jewish Psychiatric Patients” was held, I learned about, as the exhibition title suggests, how Jewish patients were doubly stigmatized by being separated from other patients, denied pastoral care, and were cared for not at the expense of the Reich but by Jewish organizations. Jewish patients were singled out for early extermination; by December 1942, the destruction of the Jewish patient population at Wittenau was complete.

    It is only at the end of my talk with the neurologist that I notice he wears a hearing aid. I want to ask if he knows about “100 Percent,” the film produced by deaf Germans to show they could assimilate and be productive citizens who worked. Did he know the hereditary deaf were singled out not only by the German authorities but also by those with acquired deafness who tried to save themselves? Too often, even those of us with disabilities do not know our own history.

    Not many people know about disability history in the United States. They do not know that in the United States in 1927, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote that “three generations of imbeciles are enough” as part of his opinion in Buck v. Bell, in which the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilization of the “unfit” was constitutional. This decision has never been expressly overturned.

    Many Americans still do not know about the so-called “ugly laws,” which in many states, beginning in the late 1860s, deemed it illegal for persons who were “unsightly or unseemly” to appear in public. The last of these laws was not repealed until 1974.

    Why is it important to know this history? We often say what happened in Nazi Germany couldn’t happen here. But some of it, like the mistreatment and sterilization of the disabled, did happen here.

    A reading of Hoche and Binding’s “Permitting the Destruction of Unworthy Life” shows the similarity between what they said and what exponents of practical ethics, such as Peter Singer, say about the disabled today. As recently as 2015, Singer, talking with the radio host Aaron Klein on his show, said, “I don’t want my health insurance premiums to be higher so that infants who can experience zero quality of life can have expensive treatments.”

    These philosophers talk about the drain on “resources” caused by lives lived with a disability, which eerily echoes what Hoche and Binding wrote about the “financial and moral burden” on “a person’s family, hospital, and state” caused by what they deem lives “unworthy of living.”

    Experts point out the recent Republican health care proposals would strip Medicaid funding that helps the elderly, the poor and the disabled live healthier and more dignified lives. A recent New York Times article quoted the Rev. Susan Flanders, a retired Episcopal priest, as saying: “What we’re paying for is something that many people wouldn’t want if they had a choice. It’s hundreds of dollars each day that could go towards their grandchildren’s education or care for the people who could get well.”

    In the article, Flanders, whose father had Alzheimer’s, is described as “utterly unafraid to mix money into the conversation about the meaning of life when the mind deteriorates.” Practical ethicists are similarly unafraid to do this. As were the Nazis. Third Reich school textbooks included arithmetic problems on how much it would cost to care for a person with a disability for a lifetime.

    Three years ago, I was the only visitor at a museum dedicated to the history of the Reinickendorf area of Berlin. The museum building was once part of Wiesengrund, which, in 1941, housed the “wards for expert care” of the Municipal Hospital for Children.

    Down a hall with fluorescent lighting, in a white-walled room, were 30 wooden cribs. On each of the cribs was a history of a child, some as young as a few months old. This was the room in which these infants and children were experimented on and killed: the 30-bed Ward 3, the “ward for expert care” at Wiesengrund.

    My heart raced; my breath shortened. I couldn’t stay in that room for long. The room evoked the first four weeks of my own life spent in an incubator. Nobody knew if I would live or die.

    What kind of society do we want to be? Those of us who live with disabilities are at the forefront of the larger discussion of what constitutes a valued life. What is a life worth living? Too often, the lives of those of us who live with disabilities are not valued, and feared. At the root of this fear is misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and a lack of knowledge of disability history and, thus, disabled lives.


    “The Nazis’ First Victims Were the Disabled” by Kenny Fries; The New York Times; 09/13/2017

    “What kind of society do we want to be? Those of us who live with disabilities are at the forefront of the larger discussion of what constitutes a valued life. What is a life worth living? Too often, the lives of those of us who live with disabilities are not valued, and feared. At the root of this fear is misunderstanding, misrepresentation, and a lack of knowledge of disability history and, thus, disabled lives.”

    What kind of society do we want to be? Well, if the GOP gets its way we’re going to be a “let ’em die!” society. Which means we’re also going to the kind of society where any discussions about assisted suicide and the compassionate ending of life is going to be mired in the horrific politics of health care austerity and the GOP’s endless war on the poor, especially poor disable people or others with expensive medical services. You know, kind of like the Nazis. The GOP is just a little less explicit about it.

    Adding to the sick nature of this political situation is that a lack of adequate health care coverage is exactly the kind of thing that’s going to put more and more people in the kind of medical situation where they have to consider some sort of assisted suicide because a painful, slow or quick, death will be the only other option they’re left with. The ethics of ending life is one of the most challenging topic a society can grapple with and it’s going to a lot more difficult to grapple with at the same time society is pondering whether or not we can pay to keep each other alive. But this is where we are. Lot’s of ethical grappling is in store for America.

    So don’t forget as we grapple with this nightmare situation: the Nazis failed the “Kimmel test” too. And they didn’t casually fail it. They failed it out of an ideology that viewed entire categories of people as not worthy of life.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 21, 2017, 3:47 pm

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