NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Richard Land’s assertions that some proposed elements of health care reform are tainted by principles embraced by the Third Reich have drawn critical response from some, perhaps none more notably than Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Land told Baptist Press that despite Foxman’s desire, as outlined in an ADL press release, that the “use of Nazi analogies will cease,” he has no plans to stop pointing out where the reasoning behind health care reform proposals intersect the ideologies held by those in history who failed to appreciate the preciousness of all human life.
The Southern Baptist ethicist went on to say that while he has been “sensitized to use far more care in [his] descriptive language,” he still believes there are connections to be made between some underlying philosophies held by the Germans and others in the first half of the 20th century, and certain elements under discussion in the health care reform debate today.
In an Oct. 9 letter made public on the Anti-Defamation League website, Foxman communicated his concern that Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was, in a recent speech, accusing those involved in health care reform deliberations of proposing “precisely what the Nazis did.”
Foxman also took issue with Land’s naming of White House healthcare advisor Ezekiel Emanuel as the recipient of a mock award named for Josef Mengele, a Nazi doctor nicknamed the “angel of death,” who conducted horrid and brutal experiments primarily on children.
The ADL chief’s letter said any Nazi comparisons are “inappropriate, insensitive and unjustified.”
In his letter to ADL’s Foxman, Land said he did not intend “to equate the Obama administration’s healthcare reform proposals with anything related to the Holocaust.”
Land expressed deep regret for appearing to link “anyone in the Obama administration” with Mengele. He wrote that he was using “hyperbole for effect” and promised he would refrain from making such comparisons in the future.
Land expressed hope that their exchange on the matter would foster “greater cooperation between Jews and Christians on all matters of mutual concern, including opposing ethnic bigotry, Holocaust denial, and the extreme threat posed by the current Iranian regime.”
Land said he has a deep affection for the Jewish people and the state of Israel, and added that the Holocaust was a “horrific event that reminds us of man’s inhumanity to man.” He said it was made even more disturbing by the fact that it took place in a scientifically and culturally advanced country like Germany.
Land said the Nazi genocide demonstrates what happens when bad ideas are taken to their worst conclusions.
But why bring Nazi Germany into a discussion over health care reform? Land told Baptist Press there was value in heeding the lessons of history, recalling a saying attributed to Mark Twain — while history doesn’t always repeat, it often rhymes.
“There were very lethal and deadly philosophies loose in 20th century Germany prior to the Nazis’ ascendancy to power that called for devaluing some human beings as less worthy of life than other human beings,” he said, recalling there were arguments for euthanizing those who were perceived to be “useless eaters” and those who had “lives unworthy of life,” lebensunvertes Leben, in the 1930s and beyond.
“These poisonous philosophies became ever more deadly as the Nazis applied them to ever wider categories of people, such as Jews and Gypsies,” he continued.
Land said there are some involved in the health care debate who appear to believe some lives are less valuable and less worthy of medical treatment than others.
In noting he had previously used “imprecise language,” Land said he should have said some of the philosophies that are being espoused “bear a lethal similarity in their attitudes toward the elderly and the terminally ill and could ultimately lead to the kinds of things the Nazis did.”
“To equate expressing concerns that such a mindset could be carried to such an extreme at some time in the future as the equivalent of saying the Obama administration is like the Nazis or that Barack Obama is Hitler is either delusional or deliberately misleading,” Land said.
In the interview with Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist leader also criticized comments made in an online piece by a former Indiana State University professor, Richard Pierard.
In his commentary cited at the Baptist Center for Ethics’ website, Pierard wrote in part, “To evoke images of Hitler or the Holocaust to thwart health-care reform is a brutal insult both to the victims and survivors of that Holocaust. We must proclaim as widely as possible that the term ‘Nazism’ and images of the swastika have nothing to do with the issues at hand. Any such comparisons are false and are intended only to frighten and confuse people.”
Said Land, “Richard Pierard attempts to remove the Third Reich as a subject of discussion when it comes to the healthcare debate.”
Pierard also “impugns the motives of those who disagree with him,” Land continued, adding that Pierard’s comments “sound like an attempt at censorship of people who choose to express themselves in ways he finds unacceptable.”
“The last time I checked, Dr. Pierard had not been made speech czar,” Land said, promising to exercise his “First Amendment rights whether he likes it or not.”
Land also took issue with an article in New York magazine that linked him with those who call President Obama Hitler.
“I saw an article titled ‘The Right Calls Obama Hitler.’ I thought to myself, ‘What loon did that?'” he said. “Then I read the first paragraph and discovered they thought it was me.”
Calling this assertion “absurd,” he said, “There is no way to honestly and legitimately get from what I said to the idea that I was in any way, shape or fashion calling President Obama Hitler or anyone in the Obama administration a Nazi.
“It defies logic,” he said.
He said some of the ideas reportedly promoted by Emanuel could lead to “denial of care, which could be seen in extreme cases as passive euthanasia.”
Land said he was definitely not the first to voice such a concern about threats to human life, noting that his friend and mentor, the late Richard John Neuhaus, took issue with the 1990 court ruling in which Nancy Cruzan, who was in a persistent vegetative state, was denied hydration and nutrition. In his 1992 book, “America Against Itself: Moral Vision and the Public Order,” Nuehaus, founder of the journal First Things, recalled that the Germans found themselves in deep trouble when they began targeting those they believed had lives unworthy of life.
The beliefs that led to the atrocities of the Third Reich rejected the sanctity of every human life, from “conception to natural death” (the last phrase is found in Article XV of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000), Land said, noting that many of the ideas adopted by German doctors were borrowed from American eugenicists.
Land said some health care reform proponents, including Emanuel, seem to suggest that as people age they have lives less worthy of life “or at least less worthy of being given full access to treatment.”
“Dr. Emanuel has argued vigorously for a treatment philosophy that devalues human beings as they age in terms of their right to full and complete access to America’s medical resources,” Land said.
Land also cited an audio clip of Robert Reich, who was labor secretary in the Clinton administration, in a speech at the University of California-Berkeley, as evidence that some have intentions that might only unfold down the road as health care reform is enacted.
In the Sept. 26, 2007, address Reich tells students if a candidate could talk honestly about ideal health care the candidate would tell senior citizens: “If you’re very old, we’re not going to give you all that technology and all those drugs for the last couple of years of your life to keep you maybe going for another couple of months. It’s too expensive … so we’re going to let you die.”
Land said that despite his debates with those who want to reform health care by discriminating against some segments of the population, there is a need for reform. He called for a “universal threshold of health care for Americans.” He said he will not be “intimidated into silence” when ideas are proposed “which could quickly lead to some people being treated less equally than other people, as a matter of government policy.”
Noting that ideas have consequences, Land said any idea that is at odds with the truths embodied in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a bad idea.
“Our forefathers didn’t just pull these ideas out of thin air,” Land said. “They gleaned them from the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, which had worked their way into the moral genetic code of the Judeo-Christian West,” he said.
“I am not questioning the intentions of those who are promoting bad ideas. It’s not intentions that concern me; it is their potential consequences,” he said, noting, “The road to perdition has often been paved with good intentions.”
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.