Friedlander, Henry. _The Origins of Nazi Genocide: from euthanasia to
the final solution_. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill,
1995. pp. 14-16, 307.
The attitude exhibited by scientists toward the disabled “degenerates”
among the lower classes could not, however, be described as moderate.
As early as 1920, two eminent scholars proposed the most radical
solution to the problem posed by institutionalized handicapped
patients in Germany. In that year, Karl Binding and Alfred Hoche
published a polemical work entitled _Die Freigabe der Vernichtung
lebensunwerten Lebens_ (Authorization for the destruction of life
unworthy of life). Karl Binding, a widely published legal scholar who
died just before the book appeared, argued that the law should permit
the killing of “incurable feebleminded” individuals. ^103 Alfred
Hoche, a psychiatrist and specialist in neuropathology, analyzed
Binding’s arguments from a “medical perspective.” ^104 […]
Binding argued that suicide, which he labeled a “human right,” should
not be unlawful. ^106 […]
The discussion of suicide and terminal cancer patients was ancillary
to Binding’s main concern. His polemic focused on the fate of
individuals considered “unworthy of life [_lebensunwert_],” which
could mean both individuals whose lives were no longer worth living
because of pain and incapacity and individuals who were considered so
inferior that their lives could be labeled unworthy. He used the
argument that the terminally ill deserved the right to a relatively
painless death to justify the murder of those considered inferior.
Binding and all subsequent proponents of his argument consciously
confused the discussion by pointing to the suicide rights of terminal
cancer patients facing a certain and painful death when in reality
they wanted to “destroy” the “unworthy life” of healthy but
Binding’s definition of unworthy life was not very precise, but he did
make it clear that he referred to inferior who should be killed even
if they could live painlessly for many years. He added a new criteria
when he asserted that whether a life was worth living was determined
not only by its worthy to the individual but also by its worth to
society. ^108 Emphasizing in a footnote that millions had given their
lives for their fatherland during the world war, Binding made the
following point to underline his argument: “If one thinks of a
battlefield covered with thousands of dead youth…and contrasts this
with our institutions for the feebleminded [_Idioteninstitute_] with
their solicitude for their living patients — then one would be deeply
shocked by the glaring disjunction between the sacrifice of the most
valuable possession of humanity on one side and on the other the
greatest care of beings who are not only worthless but even manifest
negative value.” ^109 Binding’s comparison of the death of worthy
individuals in the service of their nation and the survival of
pampered inferiors was a staple of eugenic argumentation and, as we
have seen, mirrored the argument in favor of sterilization advanced by
Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In conclusion, Binding discussed the procedures necessary to implement
the destruction of unworthy life. The handicapped patient, the
physician, or the patient’s relatives could apply for euthanasia, but
Binding reserved the right to authorize the killing to the state,
which would appoint an “authorization committee” composed of one
jurist and two physicians to make an “objective expert evaluation.”
^116 Binding added a number of further requirements: the decision
had to rest on advanced scientific knowledge, the means to accomplish
the killing had to be appropriate and “absolutely painless,” and only
an expert (_Sachverstaendiger_) could actually kill. ^117 Binding
acknowledged the possibility of error (_Irrtumsrisiko_), except
perhaps with “idiots,” but he argued that “humanity loses to error so
many members, that one more or less really does not make a
The Binding-Hoche polemic was followed by other publications favoring
euthanasia for those deemed unworthy of life, and, although the idea
was never officially accepted during the Weimar Republic, it was
widely discussed in German medical circles. ^119 In the United States
and Great Britain, where public discussion of euthanasia centered on
mercy killing for terminal patients and not the killing of unworthy
life, the Binding-Hoche polemic made no impression. ^120 In Germany,
however, it was very influential; eventually the Nazi killers would
adopt many of its arguments and later use them as justification.
Although the German race hygienists did not originally advocate
eugenic euthanasia, they did accept it as “the logical outgrowth of
the cost-benefit analysis at the heart of race hygiene.” ^121
103. Binding did not use the term _Schwachsinn_ for feeblemindedness
but instead used the less scientific and less specific term
_Bloedsinnig_. Hoche used the same term. Binding and Hoche,
_Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens_, pp. 31, 51.
104. Ibid, p. 45.
106. Binding and Hoche, _Vernichtung lebensunwerten Lebens_, pp. 6-16.
109. Ibid, p. 27.
116. Ibid, pp. 35-36.
117. Ibid, p. 37
118. Ibid, pp. 39-40.
119. See Hafner and Winau, “Karl Binding und Alfred Hoche,” p. 233, n.
120. Ibid, p. 252.
121. Weiss, “Race Hygiene Movement,” p. 234.
Binding, Karl, and Alfred Hoche. _Die Freigabe der Vernichtung
lebensunwertens Lebens: Ihr Mass und Ihre Form. Leipzig: Verlag von
Felix Meiner, 1920.
Weiss, Sheila Faith. “The Race Hygiene Movement in Germany.”
_Osiris_, 2nd ser., 3 (1987): 193-236.