[VirtueOnline] 18 Oct 2008--In early 1938, a prominent German physician's wife requested a brief meeting with Adolph Hitler. After an exchange of greetings, she cut to the chase by asking the Chancellor if there was some way, discretely and legally, to have her child killed. The little boy was missing two limbs, was blind, and gave indications of possible mental retardation. Fascinated by her request, Hitler approached Karl Brandt, his closest friend and personal physician to seek his input.
Brandt and Hitler agreed to kill the unwanted child as something of a test case to determine what, if any, the public repercussions might be. After the little boy's extermination precipitated no significant protests, Brandt began organizing a formal program of mass murder for children with disabilities, anyone the Third Reich regarded as lives unworthy to live. These children, the German leaders dubbed as "useless eaters." Hitler appointed a team comprising politicians, military leaders, and physicians to oversee and develop what eventually became the T4 Aktion (Action) reflecting the central office's address at Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin.
Hitler and his staff incorporated an elaborate selection process within the T4 Program. When any child was born in Germany, the attending nurse was required to register the infant, record his or her health status, and, most importantly, remark on any possible abnormalities. If the baby gave any indication of a disability, T4 personnel were immediately notified.
Into the 1940s, the Nazi euthanasia program expanded to include older children and adults with disabilities. In October, 1939, Hitler issued an official directive that expanded "the authority of physicians, to be designated by name, to the end that patients considered incurable according to the best available human judgment of their state of health, can be granted a mercy death."
From this point forward, anyone living anywhere under the Third Reich who suffered from epilepsy, blindness, deafness, any form of senility, muscular spasticity or paralysis-including even moderate cerebral palsy-, or from retardation, encephalitis, or any significant neurological conditions was subject to execution. Eventually, six killing centers were established including the notorious Hadamar clinic. Estimates of the total number or people with disabilities executed between 1938 and 1945 hover around the quarter million mark, but given the paucity of records the actual figure is likely much higher.
Here in North America, since the 1970s, we have discovered a far more efficient means of weeding out those with disabilities. In addition, discourse about the benefits of euthanasia is thriving and gaining adherents. While the practice remains illegal in Canada, Oregon has now
legalized physician assisted suicide, and other states have moved swiftly to decriminalize it.