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FIRST-PERSON: A life unworthy of life?

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–The Nazi regime under the leadership of Adolf Hitler employed a policy known as Lebensunwertes Leben, which translated means “Life unworthy of life.” The practice gave the Nazi’s the right to designate segments of the population that in the eyes of the state had no right to live.

People with physical disabilities were the first to be euthanized under the policy. The mentally ill were the next to receive the designation. Eventually anyone deemed a threat to the Nazis and their stated goals were labeled Lebensunwertes Leben. The final horror of the policy was the holocaust of the Jews.

Considering the status of the unborn in the so-called developed nations of the world, it would seem one aspect of the Nazi policy of Lebensunwertes Leben is experiencing a revival.

While no country yet forces the abortion of unborn children with disabilities, the practice, while voluntary, is widely accepted by physicians and individuals alike.

For example, when a doctor recently informed a Canadian couple that the unborn child their surrogate mother was carrying was likely to be born with Down syndrome, they insisted on an abortion, according to the National Post.

The surrogate resisted and sought to take the pregnancy to term. Her decision, according to the terms of the surrogacy contract, would release the couple from any responsibility for the child. The surrogate eventually relented and had the abortion, in part because she already had two children.

The child in Canada was a victim of a growing trend toward the acceptance that some unborn children are simply unworthy to be born.

A variety of studies in the United States have found that when there is a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome, 84 to 91 percent of those unborn babies suffer the fate of abortion. A 2004 study in England found that more than 90 percent of prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses ended with abortion.

When you consider that in America the vast majority of abortions take place as a matter of convenience, it should come as no surprise that unborn children diagnosed with probable abnormalities are overwhelmingly aborted.

If a normal and healthy life that is not “planned” or “wanted” can be deemed as Lebensunwertes Leben, then for certain a life viewed as “less than perfect” is going to be easy to label as unworthy to live.

There are concerns among some ethicists that the right to abortion on demand could become the expectation of abortion of the imperfect. In other words, parents might be stigmatized for choosing to give life to a child with birth defects.

The Nazis, of course, moved well beyond the termination of unborn “undesirables.” The policy of Lebensunwertes Leben included anyone that was considered problematic for the state. As a result, anyone deemed unworthy of life by the state were euthanized.

Of course developed nations are not forcibly euthanizing people. However, the idea of people determining their own death is catching on around the world.

Euthanasia is legal in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, while physician-assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland. In the United States physician-assisted suicide has been deemed legal in Oregon, Washington and Montana.

In the same way ethicists fear abortion could morph from a right into an expectation, some are concerned the same could occur with euthanasia. Some experts in ethics are concerned that the right to die could become the expectation to die.

Those who are terminally ill could feel societal pressure to simply end their lives. Why drain financial resources and put family members through emotional turmoil when you can have a doctor help you painlessly end it all?

Once the expectation to die is accepted for the terminally ill, can the same be far behind for the aged? After all, one of the arguments for physician assisted suicide is “quality of life.”

If a person’s quality of life is diminished for any reason, then euthanasia could be justified. And some would argue that quality of life does diminish with age.

The idea of life unworthy of life is certainly a slippery slope. Who determines if a live is worthy to live? The state? The individual? If an imperfect, innocent life can be deemed unworthy to live, then any life can be threatened with the same designation.

The Nazis sought to force Lebensunwertes Leben on German society. However, in developed countries around the world the concept of “life unworthy of life” is slowly but surely being embraced. The Nazis, it seems, were just ahead of their time.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

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  • Kelly Boggs