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A Third Reich mentality is taking over our treatment of the elderly

We need a new crusade to fight this secular response and treat vulnerable people with dignity

By on Monday, 6 June 2011

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, blesses a patient at a hospice in his diocese (CNS photo)

Bishop William Murphy of Rockville Centre, New York, blesses a patient at a hospice in his diocese (CNS photo)

I have been reading YouCat, ie the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church. It is well worth studying, though you can’t read it straight through, obviously. In the margin alongside Question 242, “Why should the Church take special care of the sick?” there is a quote from the German Nobel Prize-winning author, Heinrich Böll:

“I would prefer even the worst possible Christian world to the best pagan world, because in a Christian world there is room for those for whom no pagan world ever made room: cripples and sick people, the old and the weak. And there was more than room for them: there was love for those who seemed and seem useless to the pagan and the godless world.”

Our post-Enlightenment, neo-pagan society fails to understand that this is at the heart of Christianity. Keen to castigate Christian belief as superstitious and irrational and its practitioners as corrupt and bigoted, it chooses to ignore the Church’s magnificent record of care for the sick – “useless feeders”, as the Nazis called them. Boll had seen at first hand how the Nazis treated the vulnerable and was revolted by it. The distinguished historian, Michael Burleigh, has also documented what was secretly happening in the Third Reich well before the war in his Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany 1900-1945: elderly residents of care homes bundled into special buses and taken to designated centres where they were gassed and disabled children deliberately left to starve to death in hospital wards.

Why do I mention this? Because our society is slowly being taken over by the same mentality that existed in Germany during the Third Reich. It does not come as a surprise that at the same time as we are experiencing a rapidly ageing population and a care bill that we have not planned and hardly dare think about, there has been a plethora of “neglect and abuse” stories in the press. Vulnerable adults with learning disabilities have been treated with appalling callousness at a care home in Bristol while elderly patients in hospitals up and down the country are often not being given even basic care – food, water and clean sheets.

Almost everyone I know has a story of an aged relative who experienced rapid weight loss after going to hospital, followed by inevitable infection and then death. There are reports of relatives who visit their loved ones daily in hospitals and homes in order to feed them and keep them alive. Demands for euthanasia, or following a Liverpool Care Pathway-type “solution”, or for living wills, are heard with increasing frequency. This is the enlightened, secular response to lives that have become “unworthy of life”, as the Nazis baldly put it.
We desperately need a new crusade in this country: a crusade of truly Christian care, the care that, as Heinrich Boll remarked, is inspired by love and the belief that life is sacred, even in its feeble, twilight state.

  • Stewart Griffin

    It is going to be scary for old and disabled people who do not have a good family, the best social safety net ever designed, around them. 

  • Tiggy

    As was widely predicted by pro – life groups. The respect for the human person from conception to natural death, diminishes year on year. This needs root and branch reform, by our so called “law makers”

  • Chrysostom

    Once abortion is allowed then anything else goes.  If killing off a baby in the womb is all right, then who is going to bother about bumping off senile old fogies?

    Yet, the Catholic bishops of England do little about abortion.  As reported on websites, their annual “Justice & Peace” Conference in July is to have two rabid pro-abortionists as lead speakers and CAFOD does nothing about abortion – see its website and type in “abortion” on its website.

  • DA Jones

    I think there is certainly a problem with elderly care and I can see it getting worse as the crisis of healthcare resources bites deeper. There is also a need fro a culture shift as has been identified by many groups working in this area. I hope the recent publicity shames those who are responsible for sub-standard care.

    However, I think we need to be careful about lumping together everything that can sometimes be abused as though it is necessarily so. Euthanasia is always wrong, and neglect of care of the elderly and disabled is always wrong, but the Church allows withdrawal of futile treatment and the giving of palliative drugs when this is appropriate, as it will be for some people. Pius XII was very clear on this. So when it comes to ‘mercy’ killing and neglect our response must be absolute rejection, but when it comes to withdrawal of treatment and giving of sedatives or other drugs with side-effects our response must be prudence – because treatment is not always helpful.

    The Liverpool Care Pathway, and other care pathways can be used well or badly and so the question is how to make sure that they are used well.

  • Brian A Cook

    I understand the concern, but I wish to point out that liberals are staunchly anti-Nazi.

  • Harper

    A very timely warning. I have been noticing the frequency of articles in the newspapers highlighting the growing cost of care for the elderly, which, combined with “hard cases” of suffering, can be seen as softening us up for euthanasia. I can see the Dutch and Swiss doctors arriving their “mercy” needles before too long…

  • SOSJ

    Yes – liberals may be anti-Nazi but that does not stop many of them sharing  similar views on euthanasia to the NSDAP  while using the excuse of compassion for the suffering. The Netherlands and Switzerland are by no means national Socialist states but euthanasia is still tolerated under legislation.

  • John Warren

    “A Third Reich mentality is taking over our treatment of the elderly”

    You should be pleased – the Nazis were very keen on Christianity and Hitler was a serious catholic.

  • Johnny Meehan

    its, not the third reich taking over its david camerons government who are allowing this unjust course of barbaric treatment, in conjunction with the yanks, money, money, money, its a rich mans world, they all finish up millionaires, at what price murder. god forgive them for they are to greedy  in what they do. 

  • watchdog

    the nazis had  propaganda  ministers as well as james joyce who was believe it or not was british,  hitler may have pretended to be catholic for  without doubt was  propaganda,  if he was he was not  following the roman catholics virtues  of what christ told us, in the ten commandments, the first one thou shalt not kill, he even dressed his own troops up in polish uniform and said the polish had attacked first, i dont want to go  into the concentration camps, its to much like the liverpool lazarus pathway. i just dont know lord haw haws religion.