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Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, Lecture in Lübeck on Questions Relating to Eugenics (1929)

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Euthanasia – intentional dying! Hardly a day passes without someone saying to us: Why are you not taking the only sensible path? I have only a few counter-questions. First, from the general human standpoint: Where shall the measure be set? This life is preserved and that one is wiped out? Who shall decide? The state or the father and mother? And if they are not in agreement: If the father is of one opinion and the mother another? What is to be done then? The originators of this idea have calculated that one might be allowed to eliminate perhaps three or four thousand people in this way, which would be a savings of five million. But as far as I can tell, for their sake one would have to erect an apparatus of scientific observation, of control, in order to avoid as many mistakes as possible, and by my estimate it would cost twice or three times as much. And if one reached one’s goal: Where is the doctor who would agree to perform this kind of last service – I don’t want to label it more sharply than that. The institutions would have to continue. But then the confidence in them would crumble. I ask the mothers among you: What mother would entrust her child to an institution if she did not know whether it would be placed on the list of death candidates one day? And the following seems even worse to me: What destruction of the basic good that is the sacredness of life would take place in the consciousness of our people? Where would it lead if we, for humanitarian reasons, decided to let murderers live, while at the same time, for partly economic reasons, we killed innocent children? I see no solution down this path.

[ . . . ]

As many images as pass by us in Bethel, that is how many riddles confront us. Are there solutions? Do we eventually answer these questions as well with the verdict: Yes! Of course! We don’t kill them, but the life that unfolds daily in a thousand shapes under our hands is, in fact, in the most fundamental sense, a life that is not worthy of being loved?

I say: No! And I want to further clarify this “no” with a few answers.

First: We remove these sick and weak individuals from the society of human beings, where they no longer fit, but we place them in a new community of life and work. If you ever wander through Bethel, you will see not only these dark external images, but also a community that is happily working with each other. We saw this immediately at the beginning of our work: The point cannot be only to provide care, rather every small individual power must be put to work. To be sure, people say time and again: It is impossible to insert weak humans unworthy of life into a productive process. But when I look at our community of work in Bethel, I say: Isn’t this productive process perhaps normal, a cooperative work process, where one hand grasps the other, [is it not] a great Socialist – and, leaving aside all the taints of party politics, one could also say: Communist – community of labor, where everyone is in service to the whole, and where every power, however small, is deployed somewhere for the welfare of the others?

[ . . . ]

Source: Friedrich von Bodelschwingh, “Vortrag in Lübeck über Fragen der Eugenik (1929),” 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. 217-21.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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