George Austin on ceasing to be human

A recent TV programme, Auschwitz, The Forgotten Evidence, included interviews with survivors. One man described how on arrival at the concentration camp he, as a fit young Jewish male, was herded into one line and his wife and children into the other. He had known of the rumours about Nazi extermination camps but commented, ‘You had to stop being human to believe it.’

The women and children certainly did not believe it for we saw photographs, presumably taken by excited German troops, of women and children waiting patiently in the woods, where they were told they would be taken naked into a hut to have a shower. In reality they were immediately gassed and then cremated. In Auschwitz alone up to 4 million people, mostly Jews from all over Europe, were murdered in the gas chambers or died of starvation and disease between 1940 and 1945.


And there were other camps – Belsen, Dachau, Buchenvald in the west of Germany – where those whom the state believed either to be enemies, such as communists, trade unionists, Catholic and Protestant dissidents, or else to be sub-human, such as Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, and the mentally and physically disabled, were systematically murdered. In all 6 million Jews died, along with half a million other ‘undesirables.’

The condition of those who survived was pitiable, and a friend who was present when Dachau was liberated can never speak to anyone of the horrors he witnessed. But our wartime allies were no better. In the Soviet Union in the 1930s, Stalin’s reign of terror against those he believed threatened his absolute rule was even more extreme, and as many as 10 million people were executed and twice that number sent to remote prison camps where many died. His collectivization policy for agriculture caused famine and to solve this he conveniently allowed some seven million people to starve. You have to stop being human to believe it.

It would be good to imagine that the effect of the Holocaust and the Soviet massacres would be to cause such world-wide moral outrage that these horrors could never be repeated, but human nature is not like that. The catalogue of slaughter has become worse rather than better, and in almost every continent.

In Cambodia, the communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot may have slaughtered two million people. On a lesser scale, the ‘ethnic cleansing’ in the Balkans reflected the political bitterness of generations. The number of the ‘disappeared’ in the Argentine of the Junta and the Chile of General Pinochet will probably never be known, while the cruelties of Marxist extremists still persists in some countries of South America.


Tribal massacres in the Sudan and Rwanda and other parts of Africa continue, and the dying goes on long afterwards through the starvation that is difficult to combat, for all the good will there is from Western nations to provide relief.

In the days of apartheid, international cricket was banned against South Africa, whereas today it continues with Zimbabwe, where millions of the ‘wrong’ tribe face starvation because of Mugabe’s policies.

In pre-‘democratic’ Southern Rhodesia, Prime Minister Ian Smith’s Selous Scouts had a cruel reputation and earned the righteous condemnation of bodies like the World Council of Churches. But when Robert Mugabe took power and his notorious Fifth Brigade caused murder and mayhem in the tribal areas not loyal to Mugabe, his Marxist credentials preserved him from the same criticism. In a debate at the General Synod one Christian cleric defended him against censure with the words, ‘But he is our Christian brother.’ You have to stop being human to believe it.

The 1967 Abortion Act was intended to combat the horrors of illegal abortions and to be used only when the safety of the mother was at risk. It has become a free-for-all, with under-age girls able to obtain an abortion without the knowledge or intervention of a parent. Even though the Hippocratic oath includes the declaration that ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception’, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children points out that abortion requires ‘the dismemberment, poisoning and/or premature expulsion of the child.’ In Britain since 1967 there have been more than 6,000,000 such deaths. You have to stop being human to believe it.

And now we have the Mental Incapacity Bill, intended to help those suffering from incurable illnesses to end their lives. This is not about allowing, for instance, the increase of pain-killing drugs with the deliberate purpose of easing suffering, knowing that it may reach the point where a fatal dose is the result. That in Christian terms is defensible. Rather, it is about a deliberate decision to end life through assisted suicide.

If in some cases it is left to doctors to make the final decision, who can doubt, with the evidence of the quickly developed use of the Abortion Act, that it might soon become euthanasia – and worse, euthanasia without the consent of an incapacitated patient?

Baroness Warnock, described in The Sunday Times as ‘our most pre-eminent medical ethicist’, goes further by suggesting that ‘the frail as well as the terminally ill should shuffle off early.’ Otherwise, she complains, they would be a financial burden on the family, wasting money ‘that society could use better as inheritance tax’.’

Collaborative murder

When it was suggested to her that this might encourage rogue doctors to follow the example of Shipman and simply murder his patients, she pointed out that ‘the Bill addresses that by requiring two doctors (for an assisted suicide). It is unlikely that both would want to bump her off.’ Why not? It did not prevent abortion on demand.

In a letter to the paper the following week, a writer told how she had attended a forum at the Department of Constitutional Affairs where she commented to a young woman, ‘I don’t want to be killed off when I become a nuisance.’ ‘Don’t be a nuisance then’, she snapped back.

But Warnock goes further and, according to The Sunday Times, points out that if we keep a premature baby alive on a life-support machine, someone else might be denied treatment because of a limited public purse. ‘Maybe’, she adds chillingly, ‘it comes down to saying, ‘Okay, they can stay alive but the family will have to pay for it.’’ But what if that offends against doctors’ desire to keep alive? ‘I don’t see why the rest of us should be sacrificed to the scruples of the medical profession.’ And Warnock is ‘our most pre-eminent medical ethicist.’

You have to stop being human to believe it.

George Austin is a writer, broadcaster and journalist