Abstract | Background | The Children's Euthanasia Program | The Killings | The "T-4" Adult Euthanasia Program | The "Wild" Euthanasia Programs | Why The Nurses Participated | Analytic Framework for Understanding the Nurses' Participation | Conclusion | References

The Children's Euthanasia Program

Because of the prevalence of the negative attitude of the public toward the handicapped, "Parents were made to feel shame and embarrassment at having to raise an abnormal or malformed child" (Proctor, 1992, p. 25). The children's euthanasia program in Germany during the Nazi era is reported to have had its origin in the request by a father of a deformed and retarded child to Hitler to have this child killed. Hitler asked his personal physician to investigate the situation and the child was eventually killed. In 1936-1937, a secret "Reich Committee for the scientific registering of serious hereditary and congenital illnesses" was established in Hitler's Chancellory. This committee of three with medical and psychiatric expertise discussed euthanasia and, in 1939, drafted a prospective law calling for the "destruction of life unworthy of life". This prospective law would have provided legal sanction for "killing people suffering from serious congenital mental or physical 'malformation', because they required long-term care, aroused 'horror' in other people, and were situated on 'the lowest animal level'" (Burleigh, 1994, p. 98).

In 1939, a Ministry of Justice commission proposed the following:

Clause 1: Whoever is suffering from an incurable or terminal illness which is a major burden to himself or others, can request mercy killing by a doctor, provided it is his express wish and has the approval of a specially empowered doctor.

Clause 2: The life of a person who because of incurable mental illness requires permanent institutionalization and is not able to sustain an independent existence, may be prematurely terminated by medical measures in a painless and covert manner (Burleigh, 1994, p. 99).

It became compulsory to register all "malformed" newborn children with the Reich Committee. The Reich Committee for Research on Hereditary Diseases and Constitutional Susceptibility to Severe Diseases "was an organization for the killing of children who were born mentally deficient or bodily deformed. All physicians attending at births, midwives, and maternity hospitals were ordered by the Ministry of Interior to report such cases"... (Office of US Chief of Council for the Prosecution of Axis Criminality, Document Number 630--PS, 17 September 1945). Three referees - two pediatricians and one physician director of a psychiatric institution - were to decide which of the reported children were to be killed. These physicians made the decisions without seeing the children and based solely upon the diagnoses of the midwives and reporting physicians.

When the Public Health Offices were notified of a decision they were to arrange for the child's admission to one of approximately thirty inpatient pediatric clinics. The Reich Committee promised the parents that the child would be treated by specialists in the clinic and this promise often allowed the parents to believe they were acting in the child's best interest. "Other parents were talked into parting with their child by their family doctor, or by public health or national Socialist People's Welfare nurses doing the round of family home visits or servicing mothers' advisory centers" (Burleigh, 1994, p. 102).

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
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