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October 21, 2010

“life unworthy of life” (in German: “Lebensunwertes Leben”)

Filed under: Germany, Health — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 10:26 am

The title of this post, “life unworthy of life” (in German: “Lebensunwertes Leben”) was used in Nazi Germany in reference to the people who were killed because they were mentally or physically disabled. The Nazi concept of “unwertes Leben” or “unworthy lives” is believed to have eventually led to the Holocaust.

In the news recently, there is the sad story of a seven-year-old girl who was the victim of cyber-bullying by an adult neighbor who posted horrible photos, alluding to the fact that the child will eventually die of Huntington’s Disease.  The little girl’s mother recently died from Huntington’s Disease, which is a genetic condition.

The recent news stories, which mention Huntington’s Disease, reminded me that, in Nazi Germany, this disease was on the list of conditions that Germany attempted to wipe out by sterilizing people — against their will, if necessary.

On July 14, 1933, Hitler signed the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring,” one of the first laws Hitler implemented after he was appointed the Chancellor of Germany. In German, it was called Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses and it was the law of compulsory sterilizations. The ideology of the Nazi Party included the concept of  “racial hygiene” which was the plan to produce a race of strong, healthy people.

Article I of the “Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring” defined who was to be examined and then sterilized:

(1) Anyone who suffers from an inheritable disease may be surgically sterilized if, in the judgment of medical science, it could be expected that his descendants will suffer from serious inherited mental or physical defects.

(2.) Anyone who suffers from one of the following is to be regarded as inheritably diseased within the meaning of this law:

1. congenital feeble-mindedness
2. schizophrenia
3. manic-depression
4. congenital epilepsy
5. inheritable St. Vitus dance (Huntington’s Chorea)
6. hereditary blindness
7. hereditary deafness
8. serious inheritable malformations

Hartheim Castle in Austria was the place where disabled people were killed during the Nazi regime.  The castle has now been turned into a memorial site which is used to promote the idea that disabled people are “worthy to live” and that disabled children should be “main-streamed” in elementary schools, not sent to special schools for the handicapped.  You can read all about the memorial site at Hartheim here.  You can read about the disabled people who were gassed to death at Hartheim here.

I don’t know if Huntington’s Disease has been wiped out in Germany, but I do know that hereditary deafness has not been eliminated.  On one of my many trips to Germany, I observed a mother and father who looked enough alike to be brother and sister; their son looked exactly like his parents.  All three were using sign language.

This family was eating in a restaurant. When another person came in and communicated with them in sign language, it was clear that none of them could hear. The visitor was able to speak to others in the restaurant. If any of the three people in this family had been able to hear, the visitor would have spoken to them, instead of using sign language.

The young boy in this family will probably carry on the tradition by marrying a girl who is deaf, producing more children with hereditary deafness.  Meanwhile, the children of former Nazis are having themselves sterilized to prevent future generations of evil German monsters.

If I had Huntington’s Disease, I would adopt a child, rather than passing on this disease to future generations.