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The Deadly Legacy of Eugenics

We’ve seen it happen: A new assault on the sanctity of human life appears—say, infanticide being promoted in a major bioethics journal, or officials in Iceland bragging that no children with Down syndrome are born there, thanks to prenatal genetic screening—and some horrified opponents respond in horror, “That’s what the Nazis did!” It’s an easy accusation to wield, but rarely a wise one. Often, these proposals and policies have little to do with the crimes of Hitler and his minions—and a great deal to do with the eugenicist movement that preceded them.

Take the euthanasia killings of people with disabilities in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Canada. Certain analogies to Nazi horrors spring to mind: German doctors killed disabled babies between 1939 and 1945—as is happening today in the Netherlands, despite being technically illegal. And German doctors terminated disabled adults in hospitals. In the latter example, however, there are some crucial differences. Unlike legal voluntary euthanasia of disabled people in Belgium, the Netherlands, and Canada, the disabled victims of the Nazis were part of mass killing experiments at the start of the Holocaust. And since people who are accused of Nazi thinking don’t appear threatening—they don’t wear “SS” insignia on tailored black leather coats or boast funny mustaches, and they haven’t swallowed the poisonous ideology of fascism—the Nazi epithet is more likely to undermine the accuser’s credibility than persuade his audience.

So, what are we supposed to do, Wesley? Ignore history? Not at all. In fact, I think a more apt thought connection to the culture-of-death practices and proposals of today can be made to the invidious beliefs that animated eugenics—a movement still disdained by most people. This analogy is less likely to be rejected out of hand.

Read more at First Things. 

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