Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Part 1

Yes, it’s true…after seven years, I finished reading The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton (click here to see it on  I began reading this book because I had just started working at Lutherans For Life and I wanted to see if I could gain more insight into how doctors, nurses, and others in the medical profession could take part in abortions.

If you’re not familiar with the book, I highly recommend it for two reasons. The first is that although everyone knows that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, most people don’t know that non-Jews were also killed en masse. Most people also don’t know of the breadth of medical experiments that were perpetrated on unwilling subjects. It’s important for each of us to understand how the sinful human self can so easily overtake whatever “goodness” we think is inside us.

The second reason why I recommend this book is that Lifton (a psychiatrist) attempted to unravel the psychology of those who were for the most part, normal, everyday doctors outside of concentration and extermination camps of Nazi Germany. One example is a doctor who had a private practice in his hometown that helped Jews at night prior to his posting at Auschwitz, but after arriving at Auschwitz, he easily took part in the experiments on Jewish prisoners and selections of Jews for death.

There really is too much to cover in a blog, but I wanted to highlight some of the things that struck me, even as I think about today’s medical professionals who take part in abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicides. I saw many parallels in what happened 70 years ago and what is happening in our society today.

Lifton identified that post WW I Germany was a beaten down and depressed state. From that situation arose a new collective desire to restore the people and to rid the people of its problems. Not wanting to identify the German people (the Volk) as the cause of their own misery, the Nazis created a mythical ancestor, the Aryan race, that was pure and strong. But that race had (and continued to have) a disease running through it due to impurities brought in by people of other ethnic backgrounds or those with genetic diseases in their families. To cure the Volk of that disease, the impurities needed to be removed, even if it meant death for the “impurities.” In other words, death became a cure and from that cure, the strength of the Aryan race would re-emerge. From the book (page 472):

Totalistic ideology avoids the sting of death in its claim to invincibility and omnipotence. It puts forward its own claim to immortality and exclusive truth in specific psychological manipulations of the environment…:

  1. Milieu control (of all communication);
  2. Mystical manipulation (continuous efforts at behavior control from above while maintaining the spontaneity from below);
  3. Demand for purity (constant accusations of guilt and shame in the name of an unrealizable ideal of absolute devotion and self-sacrifice);
  4. The cult of confession (ritual self-exposure to the totalistic “owner” of every self);
  5. The sacred science (combining deification of the Word with the claim of equally absolute secular scientific authority);
  6. Loading of the language (into definitive, thought-terminating solutions for the most complex human problems);
  7. Doctrine over person (so that the evidence of individual experience must be subsumed to or negated by the idea system); and
  8. The dispensing of existence (the ultimate and inevitable line drawn between those with a right to exist and those who possess no such right).

The last, the dispensing of existence, is the larger principle that encompasses all of the others, whether expressed in merely metaphorical or, as in the case of the Nazis, in directly murderous ways.

Indeed, the Nazi movement brought a new literalism to the dispensing of existence by making the existence of each individual a matter of either harm or benefit to the biological health of the group.

Although I can see  pro-abortion tactics in each of these steps, the dispensing of existence is the most fearsome. That has already happened in our society since pregnancy (and thus the acknowledgment that human life has been created) is seen as something to be avoided at all costs. In fact, this ideology is so steeped in American society that it is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that keeps track of fertility and pregnancy rates in the US…as if pregnancy was a disease to be controlled and prevented…as if that human life in the womb has been determined to be a “harm or a benefit to the biological health of the group.”

Stay tuned, there’s more to come. (Click here for part 2.)