Angels of Death
by Sabine Barnhart
by Sabine Barnhart
Evil has a way of masking its true appearance. As much as its shadow casts darkness over the earth through the deeds done by those who fall under its thrall, evil continues to emerge in society disguised in a way that contradicts its true nature. Over the ages it has deceived humanity into believing that the remedy to envy is forced equality, that freedom is the absence of restraint, and that self-pity and mercy are two sides of the same coin.
Euthanasia, defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the act or practice of killing or permitting the death of hopelessly sick or injured individuals (as persons or domestic animals) in a relatively painless way for reasons of mercy,” made its grand entrance in the Netherlands in 1985. It is considered a legal “right” in the Netherlands for citizens 16 years old and older. This legalized “mercy killing” was further developed in the infamous “Groningen Protocol” which includes the killing of infants who doctors have determined to be beyond medical help, and children up to age 12 whose quality of life may be questionable because of physical handicaps.
As attractive as the solution may sound to some who do not wish to deal with the burden and expense of caring for a disabled loved one or newborn child, there are consequences to a practice that appears “merciful” to a public that’s sold on the idea that the more physically perfect a person is the greater his quality of life will be.
It wasn’t very long ago when Nazi Germany tried to eliminate people through an extermination program that targeted the weak, mentally disabled and infirm. This radical approach appealed to a Nazi hierarchy that eventually developed it into a state authorized program of genocide that determined to eliminate European Jewry. The only difference between this program of extermination and euthanasia is that death was not voluntarily chosen but enforced by a government set to “purify” the populace over which it had leadership. How quickly do the tides of a society change when its leadership devalues the sanctity of every life?
A Culture of Death has silently taken hold in a profession that was once sworn to uphold the classic Hippocratic Oath, which promises to heal and not harm, and to save lives rather than take them. The doctors who recommend euthanasia seem to have the mentality that death is the best alternative for the patient and his family. Since the patient’s quality of life is not acknowledged to be that of a healthy person, the emotional and financial burden to the family, exacerbated by rising health care costs, are thought to be too high a price to pay.
In 1943 a doctor actively broke his oath when he was assigned to a new position at the Nazi concentration camp in Auschwitz, Poland. Dr. Josef Mengele, a former research assistant with the Third Reich Institute for Hereditary, Biology and Racial Purity, came to Auschwitz heavily influenced by Professor Otmar Freiherr von Verschuer. Von Verschuer supported Hitler for being the first statesman to recognize the value of racial hygiene.
Racial purity became Dr. Mengele’s obsession, with frequently deadly consequences for those prisoners who became his “patients.” The medical experimentation that was conducted on his patients included surgery without anesthetics, severe disfigurements of the body and injecting of fluids that caused severe infections and fevers.
His primary test subjects were children. He was a man who, with easy cold detachment, would handpick his patients as they were led from the train to be sent either to the barracks or gas chambers. He insisted that his pet subjects, often twins, received good care and were treated well because he needed them to be healthy so they could participate in what he considered to be his “research.”
Dr. Josef Mengele was known for his good looks, charm, and tasteful style of dress. He possessed a seemingly caring and concerned manner with which he could “seduce” both his colleagues and victims. The way that he executed his acts of medical experimentation were brutal and cold-blooded, and despite his congenial manner he was unable to be emotionally effected by the suffering he inflicted on his patients.
His ability to be so severely detached from the monstrous cruelty he inflicted upon his patients came from viewing them as unworthy of kindness and less than human. The foundation for this attitude was set when as a young student Josef Mengele attended the lectures of Dr. Ernst Rudin, a man who was instrumental in setting the stage for the Holocaust.
Dr. Ernst Rudin, professor of psychiatry at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Genealogy in Munich, had the belief that some lives are not worth living and that doctors have a responsibility to eliminate those lives and remove them from the general population. The mentally handicapped became the Nazis first victims.
The Nazi doctors became self-appointed “Angels of Death” whose victims were categorized as non-human objects. As mere objects, their existence did not fit into the ideal of a perfect race whose purity depended on genetics. Imperfections that did not fit into the image of the “national ideal” were removed from public. The soul of a person was completely disregarded.
Although the heinous acts of these monsters created pain and suffering, it is obvious that the perpetrators did not feel any sort of compassion or empathy for their victims. Those who did see their victims as people had to get drunk before being able to commit these horrible acts of brutality. They were so filled with self-loathing that they had to sedate themselves with alcohol to silence what remained of their consciences.
The primary difference between the legalized act of “mercy killing” and the atrocities of the Nazi death camps is that one group is motivated by the desire to alleviate pain and suffering while the other group was intent on committing genocide. Each group considers their actions as justifiable for the good of their societies. Both groups do not respect life and make death the ultimate solution to a “problem.”
Terminally ill patients who struggle with chronic pain can be made more comfortable by the care offered through a hospice program. The love and care of friends, family, and medical professionals involved in the life of the patient validates the value of that patient’s life. Good medical care can be provided in the patient’s home as well as at a hospital or some other sort of residential facility.
People with a deep religious faith appear to be able to cope with illness more gracefully and with more endurance than people who do not have a faith. They cherish life as sacred. Even during the hours of their greatest suffering, they can find a calming peace that gives them the courage to face death with dignity.
A study at the San Francisco Hospital conducted by Randolph C. Byrd, M.D. suggests that intercessory prayer can affect people who experience severe medical trauma. His article, published in the July 1988 issue of the Southern Medical Journal, describes a group of coronary care patients who were divided into two test groups. The test group that was prayed for exhibited fewer problems during their recovery.
Prayer is a resource that enables patients and their families to accept their situation with strength and peace. The effect of prayer is like a fiber that holds the human spirit in a place of continued renewal and comfort. It creates an inner ability to set aside self-pity and accept whatever the outcome of the situation may prove to be.
When did our society come to the conclusion that self-pity is a healthy, beneficial thing? Have we been deceived into believing that self-pity is a good motive for ending life? Has every bit of wisdom that has been passed down from the ages been forgotten to the point where hope and faith no longer have any impact on the level of respect we have for life? Is our society so full of idealized notions of what life really is all about and misplaced guilt over perceived flaws that any imperfection reminds us of our own mortality and shortcomings to such an extent that it has to be removed from sight?
Families and parents who cared for mentally handicapped children are often the most loving and caring people. People who care for the helpless and mentally handicapped do not have an easy life by far. But the benefits to their spirits far outweigh the costs. It’s the physically healthy person who can receive a spiritual boost by taking care of those who are less fortunate when such acts are motivated by compassion. Self-pity on the part of the infirm can feed guilt in the healthy, but true mercy is not manipulated by guilt. True mercy is fueled by love and a strong sense of the preciousness of all life.
Properly motivated caretakers exhibit so much resourcefulness in their actions, and a love so deep that they vigorously accept their task, that it is very life-giving for everyone involved. The doctor who wants to end the life of a severely deformed infant, or patient who suffers from chronic pain, is playing God. Legalizing medical murder is the government’s way of setting limits on the value of human life and putting the authority to make such judgments, on a case-by-case basis, in the hands of the medical community in partnership with a fickle society. The lessons that every life can teach by embracing value to all human life become extinguished within the blink of an eye.
Regretfully, the physically healthy are those who need a strong dose of spiritual revival. They are the people who often glorify their own image to the point where imperfections are scorned with pity. And yet, the deformed, sick and dying won’t go away. Their existence is a part of life. Imperfections and suffering in others can spur another human being to search for a remedy. Motivated by compassion, a person will seek new ways to bring healing to those who suffer.
History is now staring us straight in the face, challenging us to see if we recognize the mistakes of the past. Medical advances have achieved so much to bring longer life to mankind and decrease the successful spread of illness. However, evil will use every means possible to destroy life, even if it is through an act that seems to appear merciful.
Dr. Josef Mengele thought his “research” was for the greater good of his nation. His patients suffered the brunt of this misguided obsession. Choosing life, however, requires that we know what it is like to be alive and not emotionally detached. We recognize cruelty when we see it. Seductive talk and perfectly starched white coats do not create good bedside manners. Those who have a passion for life can influence society to value all human life, even when that human life does not resemble our ideal image.
April 7, 2005
Sabine Barnhart [send her mail] moved to the US in 1980 and lives in Fort Worth, TX with her three children. For the past 15 years she has been working for an international service company.
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