Some of the men in my bible study group, “Grander Rounds”, will remember that I started it with: “Why does human life matter?” It seemed like a straightforward question. My desire to finally start the group stirred again by the undercover Planned Parenthood videos in 2015 that were released by the Center for Medical Progress. Whether or not the videos are real or not, I do not want to debate but the questions that they raise are very thought provoking.
In the U.S. and around the world, body parts and organs cannot be sold. Now, legally one can charge for services related to delivery or procurement, but not for the organs themselves. (I.e. you cannot sell your kidney or even your blood.) But what about parts of aborted dead fetuses? For research? Is it not a good thing for humanity and may perhaps save several people some day? Many compared the Holocaust to the abortion situation that happens everyday in the world. Doctors are at the center of both. But what was the mentality of the Nazi doctor? How did those “healers” stray so far to killing millions of Jews?
To answer my questions, I purchased two books on the Nazi Doctors; The Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton and Doctors from Hell by Vivien Spitz. I read Ms. Spitz’s book first which was the easier of the two. Ms. Spitz was one of the court reporters on the medical trials at Nuremburg and Dr. Lifton interviewed several of the doctors for several years of his life.
Immediately apparent was that most of the doctors were not strongly ideological with regards to extermination of the Jewish people. A few people at the top like Himmler, Mengele and others pressed the rest who were mostly compliant. A couple decades earlier, the Eugenics movement started in the U.S. Compulsory sterilization and immigration restriction tried to find legal ground but eventually failed. Hitler, however picked up the movement with the purpose to improve the German people and to rid disease within the German people. Bad science with wrong ideas about “Aryan origin” and poor understanding of genetics led eventually to a legal declaration of noble purpose for the German people. Wouldn’t the German people be better off if the disease and weak genes were eliminated?
Who were the first ones that were killed? They were individuals that I think most doctors today would agree are poorly interactive with their environment. Colloquially, some people call these individuals “vegetables.” Schizophrenics and other mentally affected patients or “idiots, imbiciles, and epileptics” were also included. These people were deemed as being Lebensunwertes Leben, or “Lives unworthy to be lived.” The doctors saw the suffering of these people in homes and institutions and some were classified as “useless eaters.” In some sense, the doctors considered these people already dead. It was for them, a humane act to kill these people to free up food for others and to keep them from suffering longer. For the schizophrenic and epileptic, it was helpful to society to keep those bad genes from continuing by forced sterilization. The “preservation” of the race was at hand. However, it was a reversal of “healing” and “killing.” They were “killing” to “heal” the society.
The reversal provided that any unwanted or undesirable group of people found themselves scheduled to be discarded. But aren’t doctors supposed to “do no harm?” As Fritz Klein, a Nazi doctor, put it regarding the Hippocratic Oath and what was happening, “Of course I am a doctor and I want to preserve life. And out of respect for human life, I would remove a gangrenous appendix from a diseased body. The Jew is the gangrenous appendix in the body of mankind.” A legal justification for the execution of 6 million Jews had been found.
Now, where are we today? 4000-5000 fetuses are voluntarily aborted in the U.S. alone, each day. Now I specify voluntarily aborted because medically speaking, an abortion is any time the uterus does not carry a fetus to a viable state and is lost. We call this colloquially “a miscarriage” when it happens by accident or due to some problem in development. When it is done by choice, we call it “an abortion.”
Words over time develop new semantics and “abortion” carries a lot of emotion in our society. One of the more immediate recognitions of the Nazi community was that shooting the individuals that were chosen for “mercy deaths” gave uneasiness to the soldiers that had to carry out the act. It became necessary to separate and reduce any guilt of the executioner and the judge(s). The person to be executed had to be “less than human” or a “defective human.” A system was created slowly and a series of judges determined who was eligible to have a mercy death such that not one doctor/person/judge/executioner was responsible for the death. The executioners were convinced slowly that these individuals were “less than human” and that the individual’s fate had already been determined by a series of judges. The executioners were separated from the actual execution. Rather than having to look directly at the victims, the victims were put in chambers and gas was instilled. Healthier working Jews were forced to remove and burn the bodies. At the end of the day, it was no “one” person’s fault and of course, these Jews were “less than human.”
We now come to the crux of the modern abortion issue. Are these fetuses human? Is a fetus “a person”? What is required to be a “person”? Scientifically, we know that a fertilized embryo has everything it needs to become an individual human being. A fertilized embryo developing in a uterus has even the correct conditions set for living. The embryo is genetically independent of the carrier mother. This embryo that is not deprived of its developing environment will continue to grow into an adult as its DNA instructs its cellular machinery to do. When does this embryo/fetus become a person? Conception? 12 weeks? 24 weeks (viability)? At birth? If someone murders a pregnant woman, the suspect is charged with a double murder as the developing infant is considered killed as well.
A child may be born struggling in an environment or to a parent without many resources. Are not some of our greatest leaders from meager beginnings? Has the next hero been executed before exiting the womb?
Why does it require a doctor to carry out these abortions? Are not these men and women that swore an oath to “do no harm?” A non-doctor could easily perform the abortion procedures. Where will it lead us as doctors and patients if the Hippocratic oath is eroded away?
My bible study started and purposed itself in answering these difficult questions of life. How can secularism or science answer these questions and more? Medicine is a “moral” activity. Science tells us what “is” but it cannot tell us what “should” or “ought” to be done. Science can tell us how big the cancer is or what the CD4 count is but it cannot tell us what is “good” or “bad” or what one “should” do. “Should” and “ought” are moral issues. If medicine is a moral activity, what “should” we do when it comes to abortion and medicine?
I believe the answer to these problems centers around two major questions. Does all human life have value? Can you trust your doctor?
We will begin to explore these questions in more detail in the next volume of The Lord Thy Surgeon.