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Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, "Permitting the Destruction of Life Unworthy of Living" (1920)

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And so today one must ask: to whom can and should this killing be permitted? I would say first of all to the family members who have to care for him, and whose lives are constantly so heavily burdened by the existence of the poor soul, even if the ward has been admitted into an idiot asylum, and also to guardians – in case the one or the other request this permission.

[ . . . ]

Thus, the only persons who come under consideration for permissible killing are the incurably sick, and incurability must always be joined by the longing for death or the acquiescence to it – or would be joined if the sick person had not fallen into unconsciousness at the crucial moment, or if the sick person could have ever arrived at an awareness of his condition.

As already explained above, any permission to kill that involves a violation of the will to live of the man slated for death, or of the person killed, is ruled out.

The granting of permission to kill to just anyone – I would like to use the terrible expression proscriptio bona mente – is likewise ruled out.

Just as self-killing can be permitted only to a single person, the killing of the incurable can only be permitted to those who, under the circumstances, would be called upon to save them, and whose act of compassion would thus find the understanding of all empathetic people.

To clearly circumscribe this circle of persons by legal means is not feasible. Whether the petitioner and the executor of the permission should belong to this circle in certain instances can be determined only on a case-by-case basis.

Family members will often – though by no means always – be part of this circle. Hatred can also assume the mask of compassion, and Cain killed his brother Abel.

Source: Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche, “Die Freigabe der Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens: Ihr Maß und ihre Form” (1920), in Anneliese Hochmuth, Spurensuche: Eugenik, Sterilisation, Patientenmorde und die v. Bodelschwinghschen Anstalten Bethel 1929-1945, edited by Matthias Benad in conjunction with Wolf Kätzner and Eberhad Warns. Bielefeld: Bethel-Verlag, 1997, pp. 179-86.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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