Of Special Olympics, Aktion T4, Hope and Caution

A few days ago my son and I watched the opening ceremony for the Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles.  Admittedly, I’d much rather watch competition than parades, but in this case one cannot help but be inspired by the athletes and their dedicated network of support (families, coaches, sponsors, etc).  I also learned about the initiation of the Special Olympics by Eunice Kennedy Shriver (JFK’s sister and pro-life Democrat).  Uplifting stuff.

The very next day I learned for the first time of Aktion T4 during one of the endless history shows reporting on Nazi brutality.  The T4 program was the precursor to the Jewish Holocaust, whereby Hitler ordered German physicians to “euthanize,” that is murder tens of thousands of the incurably ill and mentally disabled.  Those complicit in these atrocities called the victims “useless eaters” whose lives were not worth living.  Some portion of the T4 program was predicated on economics:  sick and mentally disabled simply didn’t produce enough to live.  The families of victims were told by collaborating doctors that there loved ones were being sent to hospitals for treatment, when in reality they were sent to death camps in Germany and Austria to be killed by starvation and then later in gas chambers (again a practice for later, larger atrocities).  The T4 program was known to many Germans and was opposed, especially by the Catholic Church and a few courageous German clergy.  The Nazis took it underground until they were smashed in 1945.

What a contrast to these two programs! One is life affirming, the other simple murder.  I know the mentally disabled have not gotten generous treatment in any number of nations, including the U.S.  We’ve come a long way, it would seem, and yet I have mixed feelings about human ability to fall into a utilitarian mindset about our fellow man.  The “mercy killing” of the terminally ill, elderly, and those without a sufficient quality of life (however such a thing can ever really be quantified) seems to be at hand, and might be increasing.

Learn the lessons of history and their frequent cautionary tales.  We’re better (or aspire to be better) than the Nazis… aren’t we??


  1. Jim Thorp says:

    I worry, too, that we are seeing more and more talk of lives not worth living. Puts me in mind of a poem-ish thing I wrote years ago, about a young man with Downs who lived in the same town as us in Michigan: http://archangelstomp.blogspot.com/2008/06/summer-vacation-day-9-pleasantville.html

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