Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Article Of The Week

A commentary entitled "Health care debate turns vile with Nazi analogy" by the director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, Art Caplan, was posted today on MSNBC's website. Mr. Caplan also was interviewed this morning by Philadelphia-based talk-show host Michael Smerconish, who placed the item on the "must read" section of his website.

And for good reason. Terming "the contemptible introduction of references, direct or oblique, to Nazi Germany" examples of "the vile evil of Holocaust denial," Caplan explains

Racism was at the core of Nazi medicine. Racism and a bizarre form of genetics that saw all manner of human frailty and weakness from prostitution to alcohol abuse to petty theft as highly heritable. When Hitler set out to kill the handicapped and the mentally ill he did it to protect the genetic future of Germany. When the "useless eaters" were targeted for euthanasia it was because of the threat they posed to the genetic health of future generations. When Nazi doctors mandated abortion it was to eliminate "mongrel" babies. When Nazi doctors analyzed how many of your ancestors had to be Jewish for you to be a Jew or when they killed all manner of Slavs, it was to remove these dangers from undermining the public health of the Reich.

Limbaugh, Beck, Palin and other Holocaust deniers ignore the core racist evil of Nazism. They reach for preposterous analogies between counseling people about living wills and the forced, involuntary mass murder carried out in the name of racism in concentration camps.

When the right wing, in their distaste for the President's push to reform a heath care system that even the American Medical Association and the pharmaceutical industry recognize has to be fixed, suggest that the disabled will be targeted, or that the elderly will be killed or find themselves without health care due to rationing by government bureaucrats as happened in Nazi Germany, they marginalize the gross evil that was the racial bigotry that fueled Nazi programs to euthanize, sterilize, experiment upon and torture people in places that were in no way connected to hospitals, clinics or nursing homes.


Describing the experience of his father in late April, 1945, Caplan writes "as a Jewish American soldier, he found himself staring at the few emaciated survivors of the Dachau concentration camp." This bit of family history adds a personal element, which both adds context and informs the reader of his personal stake in an argument, which is compelling on more than one. A petty complaint, perhaps, though maybe not so: Caplan refers to his "Jewish American" father. I'll buy that once I hear of "Catholic-American" and "Protestant-American" soldiers. Though with facets of ethnicity, Judaism is, like Catholicism, Protestant, and Islam (and Eastern faiths), at base a religion, as should be acknowledged by a bioethicist decrying the Nazi urge "to protect their 'race,' a concept that itself made little biological sense (so as) to prohibit reproduction with inferior people and, ultimately, to destroy them."

I had realized the flagrant allusion to things Nazi was a trivialization, intentional or otherwise, of the Holocaust. But Art Caplan, in recognizing the gross distortion of history inherent in the right's effort to block health care reform, gives cause to believe there is something blatantly dishonest and malicious in comparisons between Nazi Germany and President Obama.

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