Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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[med…] ical attendants colluding in the death of patients, usually children, who have been extremely impaired physically and mentally. But those practices have been restrained by legal limits and strong public reaction, and have not developed into a systematic program of killing those designated as unworthy of living.

In Germany, however, such a project had been discussed from the time of the impact of “scientific racism” in intellectual circles during the last decade of the nineteenth century. Central to that development was the stress upon the integrity of the organic body of the Volk — the collectivity, people, or nation as embodiment of racial-cultural substance. That kind of focus, as with any intense nationalism, takes on a biological cast. One views one’s group as an “organism” whose “life” one must preserve, and whose “death” one must combat, in ways 'that transcend individual fate.

One such theorist, Adolf Jost, issued an early call for direct medical killing in a book published in 1895 and significantly entitled  “The Right to Death” (Das Recht auf den Tod). Jost argued that control over the death of the individual must ultimately belong to the social organism, the state. This concept is in direct opposition to the Anglo-American tradition of euthanasia, which emphasizes the individual’s “right to die” or “right to death” or “right to his or her own death,” as the ultimate human claim. In contrast, Jost was pointing to the state’s right to kill. While he spoke of compassion and relief of suffering of the incurably ill, his focus was mainly on the health of the Volk and the state. He pointed out that the state already exercises those “rights” in war, where thousands of individuals are sacrificed for the good of the state. Ultimately the argument was biological: “The rights to death [are] the key to the fitness of life.” The state must own death — must kill — in order to keep the social organism alive and healthy.²*

The crucial work — “The Permission to Destroy Life Unworthy of Life” (Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens) — was published in 1920 and written jointly by two distinguished German professors: the jurist Karl Binding, retired after forty years at the University of Leipzig, and Alfred Hoche, professor of psychiatry at the University of Freiburg. Carefully argued in the numbered-paragraph form of the traditional philosophical treatise, the book included as “unworthy life” not only the incurably ill but large segments of the mentally ill, the feebleminded, and retarded and deformed children. More than that, the authors professionalized and medicalized the entire concept. And they stressed the therapeutic goal of that concept: destroying life unworthy of life is “purely a healing treatment” and a “healing work.”³
* The principle was disseminated by several influential writers. Implicit in some of Nietzsche’s works, it was embraced by a circle of early “scientific” racists in Munich, led by the anthropologist Alfred Ploetz and including the publisher J. F. Lehmann, whose press brought out most of the group’s pamphlets and books. 
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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