A Monument is a Reminder--Not Just of the Past but of the Future As Well Sep 15, 2014

By Joseph M. Valenzano, Jr.

In the September 2 edition of the New York Times, Melissa Eddy wrote a story about a new monument in Berlin, Germany recognizing the 300-plus thousands of people with mental illness and intellectual disabilities who were systematically murdered by the Nazis prior to and during World War II. We are reminded that these were among the first innocent, defenseless people to be killed by a regime whose atrocities and unspeakable horror were a stain on humanity. But, now, almost three-quarters of a century later, they are among the last to have their suffering publicly acknowledged.

A 79-foot-long wall of blue tinted glass now stands at Tiergartenstrasse 4, the site where dozens of doctors plotted and carried out the killings of patients arranged through medical channels under a program known as "Operation T4." Before the program was halted in 1941, some 70,000 people had been killed in the first gas chambers at six sites across Germany. The Nazis' early success paved the way for mass slaughter that would later be carried out on an even larger scale against Jews, Catholics, Poles and others in the death camps.

And, today in our "modern world" we find ourselves face-to-face with terror and horror once again. This time, the perpetrators are not called Nazis. Instead they are Al Queda, the Taliban, ISIS a/k/a ISSL and dozens of other meaningless names, all having one thing in common: they spew hatred and contempt for anyone or any group that happens to disagree with them. And if history has taught us anything, it is this: you cannot negotiate with terrorists. You cannot enter into a meaningful discourse because their hatred and contempt for life is greater than reason, exceeded only be their invoking a perverted version of their "religion" best characterized as fanatical Islam. They lack respect for their fellowmen and, like the Nazis and the Japanese Warlords, they need to be defeated and crushed, not "dismantled" and made into a "manageable problem". There simply is no place for these people and their despicable acts as part of humankind.

"Every human life is worth living: That is the message sent out from this Berlin memorial," Monika Grütters, the German minister for culture, told a crowd gathered for the opening ceremony. "The memorial confronts us today with the harrowing Nazi ideology of presuming life can be measured by 'usefulness.' "

Tens of thousands of other psychiatric patients — including children, as well as people with disabilities deemed severe enough to prevent them from contributing to the workforce — were killed through 1945, by starvation or drug overdose. Their families were issued death certificates with the cause of death falsified.

Sadly, the stigmatization of people with psychological illnesses and intellectual disabilities did not end after 1945. We see it today in the continued use of the word "retarded" when describing people with intellectual disabilities. We read about it from academics and philosophers who suggest that women pregnant with a child with Down syndrome (or any, other disorder rendering the child as less than "perfect") should consider abortion as a "solution" and a way to avoid "bringing a child into the world with special needs." We are frustrated and shocked when we see governments adopting programs like the Gronigen Protocol in the Netherlands, whereby a panel of physicians, in consultation with parents, may terminate the life of a severely disabled child at birth, "avoiding a lifetime of pain and suffering" -- not to mention expense for the state.

All life is precious and should be treated and respected as such. The "value" of a child is not measured by its "potential for usefulness" but by the love we share with him or her. Have we not learned that by now? Shouldn't we be spending time teaching our children this -- and to let them know that we will become better people when we learn to regard all those with disabilities as people to be respected, not problems to be confronted?

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