Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide, Part 2

This is part 2 of my thoughts from The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide by Robert Jay Lifton (click here to see it on  Click here to read part 1.

The inculcation of genocide into the medical professional’s psyche was methodical. It began with dehumanizing the perceived “enemy” of the state: the Jews. Lifton wrote: “At the heart of the Nazi enterprise, then, is the destruction of the boundary between healing and killing” (14). He then recounts a discussion between a survivor physician and a Nazi doctor (15ff):

But there is another perspective on medicalized killing that I believe to be insufficiently recognized: killing as a therapeutic imperative. That kind of motivation was revealed in the words of a Nazi doctor quoted by the distinguished survivor physician Dr. Ella Lingens-Reiner. Pointing to the chimneys in the distance, she asked a Nazi doctor, Fritz Klein, “How can you reconcile that with your [Hippocratic] oath as a doctor?” His answer was, “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.”

Isn’t that exactly what we have today in the abortion industry? In fact, abortion and abortifacients are often sold to the public as “women’s healthcare” because the easiest way to get people to support what you want is to tell them that you’re trying to help them. By calling abortion and abortifacients a part of women’s healthcare a wall is built so that those who are pro-abortion care for women and those who are against abortion do not care for women.

But the reality in Nazi Germany was the leaders, the perpetrators of the ideology, didn’t want to help anyone but themselves and those that were caught up in it (the doctors) didn’t even realize what had happened to their view of reality.

Click here to read about the five identifiable steps to the Nazi plan in part 3.

Updated July 16, 2012.

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.)

Man Does Not Know His Time — Jack Kevorkian

On June 3, 2011, Jack Kevorkian died of natural causes. He is best known for promoting assisted suicide and his claims to have helped over 130 people to end their lives. In an interview last year, Kevorkian stated that he had no regrets, How can you regret helping a suffering patient?

During his years at medical school, Kevorkian was promoting a utilitarian view of human life as he advocated for allowing murderers on death row a choice to die by anesthesia thus allowing their bodies to be used for medical experiments or organ donation (see NY Times article). His utilitarian view served as the foundation for why he viewed death as a help to a suffering patient. Never mind that suffering is totally subjective and that anyone, at any time, could say that they are suffering too much and wished to die. Rather than offering hope, love and care, Kevorkian only offered death as a solution to pain and suffering.

In today’s world, society tells us that it’s okay to look at someone who is suffering or in pain, shake our heads and say “wouldn’t it be better if we could just end this suffering?” Kevorkian’s promotion of assisted suicide, and even euthanasia, led people only to despair…the despair of thinking there is nothing of value to their lives and that they are a burden to their families, friends, and caregivers.

But there is a different way. We are admonished to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”  (Galatians 6:2 NKJV). We can help those who are suffering know that they are not alone, that someone does care for and love them. Rather than confirm someone’s fear that they are no longer “useful” to us by helping them kill themselves, we ought to reaffirm that they are valuable and valued. By selflessly bearing one another’s burdens, we fulfill Christ’s commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12 NKJV).

Maybe it’s just me, but…rather than do what Kevorkian did, that is, help or encourage people who are facing seemingly insurmountable pain or suffering kill themselves, or kill them directly at their request, we ought to help someone through their suffering. We can walk beside them and show them that all human life is precious and valuable no matter what age the person is, what condition the body may be in, or what stage of development that human life has reached. Even more importantly, we ought lead them to the one true hope we have, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

May God have mercy on your soul, Dr. Kevorkian.

“But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand.” Psalm 31:14-15 (NKJV)

Be Ever Vigilant

In 2009’s various versions of the health care reform bill, one section that received much attention was the section that called for annual “end-of-life planning” sessions for everyone who was covered by government-approved health insurance (that would have been you and me). I’ve written about it previously here, you can read about it in Health Plans Forced to Provide Assisted Suicide Counseling.

The final version of the bill that was ultimately passed and signed into law did not include separate sections detailing these mandatory annual planning sessions. Instead, the planning sessions were folded surreptitiously into sections that altered Medicare. On January 1, the new regulation, which allows Medicare to pay for end-of-life planning went into effect. Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article:

When a proposal to encourage end-of-life planning touched off a political storm over “death panels,” Democrats dropped it from legislation to overhaul the health care system. But the Obama administration will achieve the same goal by regulation, starting Jan. 1.

Under the new policy, outlined in a Medicare regulation, the government will pay doctors who advise patients on options for end-of-life care, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment.

Congressional supporters of the new policy, though pleased, have kept quiet. They fear provoking another furor like the one in 2009 when Republicans seized on the idea of end-of-life counseling to argue that the Democrats’ bill would allow the government to cut off care for the critically ill.

The final version of the health care legislation, signed into law by President Obama in March, authorized Medicare coverage of yearly physical examinations, or wellness visits. The new rule says Medicare will cover “voluntary advance care planning,” to discuss end-of-life treatment, as part of the annual visit.

Do you see the two-step process that was used to circumvent the public’s distaste for this kind of “counseling”? First, the health care legislation allowed for “coverage of yearly physical examinations.” That’s well and good and people on Medicare should have that kind of coverage. But the second step is what is disturbing: an administration official decided, contrary to what the people wanted, that counseling on end-of-life decisions should be part of wellness visits, and included it in the regulations that govern Medicare.

I am a proponent of discussions regarding care in end-of-life situations–that’s not the concern here. The problem  is who is giving this counseling and what resources are used. One example of a government resource would be the Department of Veteran’s Affairs document, “Your Life, Your Choices.” I’ve written previously about the problems with this document in The VA’s “Your Life, Your Choices” Document.

After the news of the new regulation was released, and pro-life bloggers and commentators started pointing this out, the Obama administration had a sudden reversal regarding this regulation and deleted it from the Medicare regulation; from a New York Time article:

The Obama administration, reversing course, will revise a Medicare regulation to delete references to end-of-life planning as part of the annual physical examinations covered under the new health care law, administration officials said Tuesday. …

While administration officials cited procedural reasons for changing the rule, it was clear that political concerns were also a factor. The renewed debate over advance care planning threatened to become a distraction to administration officials who were gearing up to defend the health law against attack by the new Republican majority in the House. …

Although the health care bill signed into law in March did not mention end-of-life planning, the topic was included in a huge Medicare regulation setting payment rates for thousands of physician services. The final regulation was published in the Federal Register in late November. The proposed rule, published for public comment in July, did not include advance care planning.

An administration official, authorized by the White House to explain the mix-up, said Tuesday, “We realize that this should have been included in the proposed rule, so more people could have commented on it specifically.”

“We will amend the regulation to take out voluntary advance care planning,” the official said. “This should not affect beneficiaries’ ability to have these voluntary conversations with their doctors.”

Did the Obama administration get caught with its hand in the cookie jar? The section in the 2009 health care reform bill that mentioned these mandatory visits were removed and provisions which would open the way for it were quietly hidden  in other sections. Then the proposed rule published for public comment last July did not include this regulation, once again hiding it from view. Is this the kind of “transparent government” that then-candidate Obama promised voters in 2008?

Folks, this is just one more reminder that those who are defending the sanctity of human life need to be ever vigilant. Those who want to devalue human life are constantly probing for weaknesses in our defense and will do anything to further advance their agenda where the sanctity of human life takes a back-seat to political expediency.

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Is it Really Death with Dignity

The Washington Post carried an article on March 17, 2010 about a new book called “Imperfect Endings” written by a daughter, Zoe FitzGerald Carter, who helped her mother, Mary, die. Mary had been suffering with Parkinson’s Disease for 20 years and decided in 2000 that she would kill herself and she wanted her daughters to help. This book is about the last year of Mary’s life.

Other people mentioned in the article excerpt below are Guth, Zoe’s husband, and Sarah and “Katherine,” Zoe’s sisters.

Here are some excerpts from the article (click here to read the whole thing):

At a family Christmas celebration in 2000, Mary was still walking. But shortly after a series of painful writhing episodes (uncontrollable jerking and twisting common in Parkinson’s patients), she took to her bed, moving only to use the bathroom. Zoe was never sure whether movement had become too physically painful or just too emotionally exhausting, but either way it was around this time that the woman who had once strived to capture the perfect brogue started pursuing the perfect death.

… A volunteer from the Hemlock Society visited the house and suggested placing a bag over Mary’s head and having her inhale helium; a Dupont Circle doctor met with Mary and Zoe to prescribe the sedative Seconal after a consultation to assess Mary’s mindset. In a catch-22 twist of logic, he would provide a means to die only to someone who was not depressed.

“The scenario of her trying to choke down Seconal was horrifying, and the Hemlock Society was even worse,” Zoe says. She was horrified by the legal implications of assisting her mother — even tacit approval felt like too much — and she was horrified by the casual glibness with which her mother discussed dying.

… Her [Zoe] father had died in 1994; Guth’s had fallen seriously ill in 1995 before eventually passing away in 1998, which was only shortly before Mary began contemplating suicide. “We had seven years of losing parents,” Guth says. “How much time can you put into each process, and what are the consequences if you don’t?”

Zoe was horrified that her mother would no longer be living, or maybe “horrified” is not the right word.

She was sad.

“I didn’t understand why,” she says, “she didn’t want to stay alive and be my mother.”

… After months of discussion, Mary had decided to end her life not with helium or Seconal but by starvation. The family had been told she would die in a matter of days, but after a week her body was still strong, though she appeared smaller each day, wasting into nothingness. She suffered. She begged Zoe and Sarah — “Katherine” hadn’t come down after all — for their blessing to allow her to take morphine.

On a baking hot evening in the middle of July, Zoe, her husband and Sarah said goodbye at their mother’s bedside. To prevent themselves from being implicated in Mary’s death, they had decided not to be in the room when she actually ingested the drug.

Mary FitzGerald Carter died a few days after the night of morphine, on July 11, 2001. Her passing brought grief and peace, both in Zoe’s ongoing relationship with her mother and in her relationship with her sisters.

Do we fool ourselves to think that there is dignity in dying just because we choose the method by and the time at which we die? Is there really dignity in starving oneself to death (a painful and slow process)? Is there really dignity in putting a plastic bag over your head as your body reacts violently while you are suffocating yourself to death?

There is no inherent dignity in dying, no matter how it occurs. It is not natural. The fact that most of humanity resists and struggles against it to the end is evidence that God did not intend for death to be part of life; but because of sin, we do have disease and disability, and ultimately, physical death.

I cannot and will not speak to what the family went through that year, nor am I condemning them for the decisions they chose.  I have never personally experience that kind of despair and can’t imagine how overwhelming the conflicting thoughts and emotions must be.

But feelings lie, and that is why we all need to consider caregiving options for ourselves and for our loved ones before we find ourselves in the midst of the emotional maelstrom that comes with end-of-life decisions.