When Donald Trump, during his campaign, used demagoguery, he was accused in some circles of being Hitler. Some saw it as an extremist depiction, but many also agreed — and continue to, as evidenced by Ashley Judd’s fiery address at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21.
When it comes to other social issues bearing resemblance to policies of the National Socialists, however, the same Hitler label is not applied.
Specifically, the policy of euthanasia.
An article on Deutsche Welle (“Short Takes,” page 2, print edition) reminded us just how integral the T4 program was to Nazi policy and to the institutionalization of genocide.
T4 did not begin with murder. It began by labeling people as undesirable and proceeded to forced sterilization and ultimately to murder. T4 led to the experimentation of gas as a method for mass extermination, paving the way for Chelmno, Treblinka, Auschwitz.
In today’s world, quality of life has, for many, trumped life itself. There is a valid debate there, but it really boils down to one question: Who decides?
The problem is that “quality of life” is inherently subjective. Once the definition of “life” becomes qualified, who decides which life is worth living, and which is not?
Supporters of assisted suicide or “end of life” as they prefer to refer to it, would argue that it is the patient himself making the decision, which is certainly a very valid point. But will it always remain so? It is not difficult to envision scenarios where terminally patients are pressured to make certain decisions, specifically patients who are struggling financially or place other heavy burdens on the medical system or their families.
If quality of life becomes the defining factor in physical illness, who is to say it won’t one day be applied to mental illness?
As things stand right now, the current US trend to accept “end of life choices” does not bear strong similarity to the Nazi policy. But the changing morality — the changing definition of life — means we don’t know where it will end up.
None other than the horror writer Stephen King portrayed the potential end game when people begin ascribing subjective values to life. In one of his novellas, Apt Pupil, a teen falls under the influence of an former Nazi living undercover in the US. The teen ends up killing homeless people, convincing himself it’s good for society because these vagrants aren’t worthy of life — social euthanasia, a concept he learned from the Nazi character. It’s fiction, of course, but horror writers tend to go to the dark places most of us wish to avoid.
People tend to forget that the Nazi party was not a strictly right wing one. Nazi is an acronym for the National Socialist Workers Party of Germany. The Nazis incorporated ideas from the left — social engineering in particular — into their warped worldview.
Why is it fair to apply the Hitler label to policies similar to one portion of National Socialist ideology — genocide — but not to euthanasia?