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The continent of murder: disability and the Nazi 'euthanasia' programme in the euthanasia debates of Britain and the United States, 1945-present

Burdett, E.; (2011) The continent of murder: disability and the Nazi 'euthanasia' programme in the euthanasia debates of Britain and the United States, 1945-present. Doctoral thesis, UCL (University College London). Green open access

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Abstract

This thesis considers the impact that ideas about disability and disabled people have had on debates about euthanasia in Britain and the United States since the end of the Second World War. I demonstrate that the debate has long been characterized by a deeply paternalistic attitude, in which assumptions and stereotypes about disabled people are held to be of such truth and relevance that the idea of having disabled people contributing to the debate simply does not occur. To this end, the thesis looks at the debates through the prism of Disability Studies, and shows that the stereotypical and outdated ideas about disability and disabled people with which these debates abound are not simply down to a chance shared inclination amongst the participants exhaustively to discuss some aspects of the issue whilst not even acknowledging others, as might easily be assumed. Instead they are based upon the assumption that, when 'euthanasia' is debated, the impairment of the individual(s) concerned is the only relevant issue. Though pervasive and often unquestioned, these ideas are now being challenged by such people as disability theorists, campaigners, and academics in the new field of Disability Studies. I will discuss this in greater detail in my Introduction. The thesis begins with the Nuremberg Medical Trial of 1946-47, at which the perpetrators of Nazi medical crimes were prosecuted. These crimes included the 'euthanasia' programme. Despite being cruel, systematic and totally non-consensual, the programme was not treated properly as a crime, the judgment stating that a state was perfectly at liberty to subject classes of its citizens to euthanasia – in other words to subject them to non-consensual killing.. The thesis then explores the reactions of outsiders to the Nuremberg Medical Trial. This reveals that the judges' view of the programme was unchallenged by observers in the UK and US press, and by medical and legal commentators, who saw the Trial as solely concerned with the prosecution of Nazi perpetrators of human vivisection. Chapters Three, Four and Five continue to explore these themes of paternalism and moral inconsistency. This is done by looking at historians' perceptions of the Nazi 'euthanasia' programme (Chapter Three), cases of individual euthanasia and how they are dealt with in English and US law (Chapter Four), and the use of the Nazi analogy in bioethical debates on the subject (Chapter Five). I conclude that, though paternalism and dismissive attitudes are still problematic, things are beginning to change, thanks to such factors as greater civil rights, greater scope for participation in society as a whole, and new academic disciplines such as disability studies and disability history.

Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Title:The continent of murder: disability and the Nazi 'euthanasia' programme in the euthanasia debates of Britain and the United States, 1945-present
Open access status:An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language:English
UCL classification:UCL > School of Arts and Social Sciences > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of EU Langs, Culture and Society

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