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From Healthcare to Holocaust
Written by Michael Tennant
Saturday, 24 November 2012
The New American – a part of The John Birch Society
It all started modestly enough. Hoping to stem the rising tide of socialism in the late 19th century, German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck decided to institute a welfare state, the theory being that finding a middle ground between laissez-faire capitalism and full-blown socialism would blunt the popularity of the latter without unduly interfering with the former. Bismarck convinced the Reichstag to create four programs: accident insurance, old-age pensions, disability insurance, and compulsory health insurance.
The health insurance bill, passed in 1883, provided for cash payments to those temporarily unable to work because of illness and in-kind benefits for their medical treatment. Employers paid one-third of the cost of the program; employees paid the rest. According to Wikipedia, “The program was considered the least important [of the four] from Bismarck’s point of view.” But as we shall see, it had perhaps the most pernicious effects of all.
Darwinism in Theory and Practice
Around the same time as socialism was on the ascent, so was another controversial idea: the pseudoscience of eugenics. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, introduced in 1859, posited that creatures with survival advantages would pass those advantages on to the next generation, thereby creating stronger and better versions of their kinds. While Darwin was loath to follow his theory to its logical conclusion — that selective breeding of “superior” humans and prevention of that of “inferior” ones would aid natural selection in producing a “master race” — others were not. Indeed, by seemingly obviating the need for a creator and ultimate lawgiver, Darwin’s theory freed those desiring to artificially accelerate the process of human evolution from the moral constraints that might otherwise have stood in their way.
Throughout the world, but especially in the West, where it was presented as “scientific” and “progressive,” eugenics quickly took hold. Governments began passing laws designed to prevent allegedly inferior humans from reproducing. Persons deemed mentally unfit were prohibited from marrying, as were mixed-race couples. Worse still, individuals were sterilized against their will. America, to its great shame, was in many ways the vanguard of the movement: 31 states passed compulsory sterilization laws in the early 1900s; over 62,000 individuals were sterilized before these practices ended in the 1970s.
In Germany, of course, the idea of building a master race captured the imagination of a young painter who, at the age of 43, would ascend to the same post formerly held by Bismarck. And what the Iron Chancellor had created to prevent the socialists from coming to power would be used by National Socialist dictator Adolf Hitler to exterminate a vast swath of humanity.
From Patients’ Partners to Hitler’s Handmaidens
Like most government programs, Bismarck’s compulsory health insurance program started out small, covering only a portion of the German workforce and primarily giving them sick pay; and, like most government programs, it grew rapidly, covering more and more individuals and changing its focus from sick pay to in-kind benefits. Naturally, whoever is paying the piper calls the tune, and so “by the time of Weimar, German doctors had become accustomed to cooperating with the government in the provision of medical care,” Dr. Marc S. Micozzi wrote in a 1993 article for the Freeman. Micozzi continued:
The reforms of the Weimar Republic following the medical crises of World War I included government policies to provide health care services to all citizens. Socially minded physicians placed great hope in a new health care system, calling for a single state agency to overcome fragmentation and the lack of influence of individual practitioners and local services. The focus of medicine shifted from private practice to public health and from treating disease to preventable health care….
Medical concerns which had largely been in the private domain in the nineteenth century increasingly became a concern of the state. The physician began to be transformed into a functionary of state-initiated laws and policies. Doctors slowly began to see themselves as more responsible for the public health of the nation than for the individual health of the patient.
While this led, at least for a short time, to improved public health, “in connection with these reforms the doctor’s role changed from that of advocate, adviser, and partner of the patient to a partner of the state,” Micozzi explained. “Where traditional individual ethics and Christian charity had once stood, the reformers posited a collective ethic for the benefit of the general population.”
As present events demonstrate, welfare states, feeding off the productivity of the private sector, do not fare well during bad economic times; and so when depression struck, “health care became primarily a question of cost-benefit analysis,” observed Micozzi. “Under the socialist policies of the period, this analysis was necessarily applied to the selection of strong persons, deemed worthy of support, and the elimination of weak and ‘unproductive’ people.” Thus, “by the time the National Socialist Party came to power in Germany, the mentally ill and the mentally retarded had begun to be sterilized and to be subjected to euthanasia in large numbers in German government institutions.”
The Nazis built upon this existing philosophy and practice. “An influential manual by Rudolf Ramm of the medical faculty of the University of Berlin proposed that each doctor was to be no longer merely a caretaker of the sick but was to become a ‘cultivator of the genes,’ a ‘physician to the Volk [German people],’ and a ‘biological soldier,’” Robert Jay Lifton wrote in The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide.
Ramm … discussed the virtues of sterilization and labeled “erroneous” the widespread belief that a doctor should under no circumstances take a patient’s life, since for the incurably sick and insane, “euthanasia” was the most “merciful treatment” and “an obligation to the Volk.” That obligation was always central. The physician was to be concerned with the health of the Volk even more than with individual disease and was to teach them to overcome the old individualistic principle of “the right to one’s own body” and to embrace instead the “duty to be healthy.”
Although many doctors were more than willing to accept these notions — six percent of them had already joined the National Socialist Physicians’ League by 1933, and eventually almost half would sign on — some still held to the idea that everyone, even the weak and dying, was deserving of medical treatment. According to Lifton, the Nazis soon found a way to overcome these objections:
They mounted a consistent attack upon what they viewed as exaggerated Christian compassion for the weak individual instead of tending to the health of the group, of the Volk. This partly Nietzschean position, as articulated by Ramm, included a rejection of the Christian principle of caritas or charity, and of the Church’s “commandment to attend to the incurably ill person and render him medical aid unto his death.” … The matter was put strongly by Dr. Arthur Guett, a high-ranking health official, who declared that “the ill-conceived ‘love of thy neighbor’ has to disappear…. It is the supreme duty of the … state to grant life and livelihood only to the healthy and hereditarily sound portion of the population in order to secure … a hereditarily sound and racially pure folk [Volk] for all eternity.” He added the visionary-idealistic principle that “the life of the individual has meaning only in the light of that ultimate aim.” The doctor, like everyone else in Nazi Germany, was expected to become “hardened,” to adopt what Hitler himself called the “ice-cold logic” of the necessary.
The Un-birth of a Nation