Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Who Decides?

An Associated Press piece, Vienna Austria, written by Danica Kirka starts out, “Johann Gross survived three years of Nazi laboratory experiments under an extermination program that called for snuffing out 'worthless lives.' That trauma shapes the Austrian's view of Terri Schiavo’s death. 'No people in the world have the right to kill another. It's murder,'said Gross, 75, while visiting an exhibit on wartime experiments at a Vienna psychiatric hospital. 'It's the same as the Nazis did." Gross' reaction may seem extreme, but there are many in Austria and Germany whose attitudes toward euthanasia are clouded by Hitler's horrors.' ”

What were some of the experiments like? Later in that same AP story we read, “With the approaching 60th anniversary of the end of the war, the experiments on children are being remembered in two exhibits in Vienna. Gross will take part in a ceremony later this month honoring 400 children slain by the Nazis at a city clinic. Gross was sent to the Spiegelgrund clinic as a child because he was judged asocial and because his father was missing a hand. He said he was given injections into his feet that made it impossible for him to move for weeks unless he crawled.”

In the "Psychiatric Bulletin" (24:347) of The Royal College of Psychiatrists the following is found. “The 11th International Congress of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA) was held in Hamburg during August 1999. The most memorable feature of the successful event was not the presence of 10 000 psychiatrists from 96 countries, nor their 6000 papers, nor the elegance of the rebuilt city, but a poignant exhibition prepared by the German Society for Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Neurology. The presentation, titled ‘In Memoriam’, described the wartime extermination within Germany of 180 000 psychiatric patients. The killers were their psychiatrists.”

I could have been among those selected because manic-depression or bipolar illness was among the two top psychiatric disorders selected as criteria for death. What does this have to do with today? Well as a disabled person who has often been viewed as not up to par, I have an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when the world is having a discussion about when life is worth supporting.

In our world today we value some lives more than others. Children in Zimbabwe where I grew up as a missionary kid do not seem to hold the same value as a child living in the suburbs of Atlanta. Poor people do not seem to have the same value placed on their lives as rich folks. The disabled not the same as the well.

Who decides? What do they use as a measuring stick? That is the real problem. The only stick we have is the one we use to beat each other up with. What we really need is to decide there isn’t a need to measure each other, but rather only the need to embrace the life in each of our fellow sojourners.

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