Global History of Euthanasia

A General History of Euthanasia

Until the time of Hippocrates, physicians had two duties: one to cure and, if that was not possible, a duty to kill. Infanticide of disabled and sickly babies was also practiced. Judaism considered life to be sacred and equated suicide and euthanasia with murder. Christian teaching opposed euthanasia for the same reason as Judaism, and Islam condemned the practice also. Under Judeo-Christian and Islamic influence euthanasia and infanticide were condemned until laws began to be relaxed at the end of the 18th century. The first legalisation of euthanasia was in 1935 in Nazi Germany.

Euthanasia in Nazi Germany

The Nazi T4 Euthanasia programme was preceded by a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitudes of physicians long before Hitler came to power. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic to the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Calls for euthanasia began in the name of personal choice and mercy, using arguments identical to those heard today.

Sermon of Bishop Clemens von Galen

On Sunday, August 3, 1941, in Münster Cathedral, Bishop Clemens von Galen, risked his life by giving a fiercy condemnation of the Nazi euthanasia programme. Bishop von Galen alerted his congregation - and Germany - to the fact that mentally and physically disabled patients were being taken to distant 'asylums' where they were deliberately killed and them cremated. "If it is once accepted that people have the right to kill 'unproductive' fellow humans then, as a matter of principle, murder is permitted for all unproductive people, in other words for the incurably sick, the people who have become invalids through labor and war, for us all when we become old, frail and therefore unproductive."

A NZ doctor recalls the Nazi programme

Dr J.E.Caughey writes: "By 1936, the killing of those considered to be psychiatrically and socially unfit, and children with physical defects, was generally accepted and the subject was openly discussed in medical literature." In October1939, Hitler ordered that the extermination programme be extended to include adults. In less than two decades, a death culture enveloped the German nation. By 1943, there were 24 main death camps such as Dachau, Treblinka, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz, and over 350 smaller camps, engaged in ethnic cleansing.

Medical Science Under Dictatorship

Written by Dr Leo Alexander,who was the Chief US Medical Consultant at the Nuremberg War Trials, this paper discusses the rapid decline in standards of professional ethics, as well as their consequences upon the body social, and the motivation of those participating in them. "The ease with which destruction of life is advocated for those considered either socially useless or socially disturbing, instead of educational or ameliorative measures, may be the first danger sign of loss of creative liberty in thinking, which is the hallmark of democratic society."

The Netherlands

Since 1984, following the acquittal of a doctor who assisted in the suicide of a 95-year-old woman, Dutch doctors a consensus on guidelines was reached between Royal Dutch Medical Association and the Minister of Justice that, provided doctors kept to the rules, they could practice assisted suicide and euthanasia, without fear of prosecution. Dutch euthanasia legislation passed on April 10, 2001 and went into effect on April 10, 2002. It offered special provision on exemption from punishment for a physician provided she/he complies with two conditions. These guidelines have since been expanded considerably.

Lessons From the Dutch

A Dutch study concluded that the number of patients killed without their consent increased by fifty percent over a five-year period. A study reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that, despite suggestions to the contrary, the slippery slope has become a reality in the Netherlands.

Oregon - USA

In 1994 51% of Oregan citizens voted on 'Measure 16' to legalise Physician-Assisted Suicide. Despite guidelines, Oregon's Dept. of Human Services (OHS) "has no regulatory authority or resources to ensure compliance with the law." The OHD has to rely on the word of doctors and there are no penalties for doctors who do not report prescribing lethal doses for the purpose of suicide.

Dr Jack Kevorkian

Although Dr Kevorkian admits to assisting in the deaths of 130 or more people, he was aquitted in court three times, and had charges dropped in a fourth case. Most of Kevorkian's clients were not terminally ill, although he claimed that they were experiencing unbearable suffering. In a challenge to authorities, after assisting 52-year-old Thomas Youk to die, the death certificate, signed by the medical examiner, gave the cause of death as 'homicide', the method being 'lethal injection.' When this was ignored, Kevorkian gave the media a video he had taped of Youk's death.

Dr Philip Nitschke

Australian euthanasia campaigner Dr Nitschke built a "death machine" with which he assisted with the deaths of four people when voluntary euthanasia legislation became operative law in Australia's Northern Territory. A controversial figure, he does 'death counselling' when consulted and regularly holds workshops around Australia and New Zealand giving advice on how to manufacture suicide 'devices' as well as his 'peaceful pill'.