“Your son was released from a severe and incurable disease.”

“He died quickly and without pain. Considering his serious and incurable illness, death meant relief for him.”

“Considering her severe and incurable illness, life was agony for the deceased. You must therefore understand her death as deliverance.” [1]

These short sentences contrast with the enormity of the suffering of the incurably sick. They are typical of a narrative which makes it hard to understand why anyone could oppose the euthanasia bill to be tabled in the New South Wales Parliament later this year, a narrative which damns its opponents as lacking in compassion.

In spite of this, a look at the pedigree of the euthanasia movement is instructive as to why the measure should be rejected.

The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society was founded in Britain in 1936. A significant number of its officials and supporters were also supporters of eugenics. The first chairman and secretary, Dr C.J. Bond and Dr C. Killick Millard, were also members of the Eugenics Society, as were its supporters Julian Huxley, H. Havelock-Ellis, Harold Laski and Eleanor Rathbone.

Other supporters, such as H.G. Wells and G.B. Shaw, were not members of the Eugenics Society, but their eugenic views are well documented.

Of course, membership in the Eugenics Society did not disqualify their views on euthanasia. Indeed, it is natural that they supported both, for while “eugenics” comes from the Greek words for “good” and “birth”, “euthanasia” comes from the words for “good” and “death”. A pleasing symmetry.

The eugenic link does illustrate, however, the characteristics of those who created the euthanasia movement. These people met to discuss the problem of others they perceived as defective. As intelligent and enlightened persons, it was natural that they should determine how lesser beings should live and whether they would be permitted to live.

Often, though not always, they were materialists, not religious (a word that was synonymous with superstitious), “scientific” (in ironical quotes because eugenics was a pseudoscience) and who thought that the efficiency of the state should be the ultimate aim of a society.

Like eugenics, euthanasia started with plain “does-what-it-says-it-does-on-the-label” branding. Both movements attracted opprobrium, unfairly they thought, when the Third Reich implemented their ideas on an industrial scale. The Eugenics Society reacted by adopting a policy of crypto-eugenics in the early 1960s and changing its name to the Galton Institute in 1989. The Voluntary Euthanasia Legalisation Society became the Voluntary Euthanasia Society in 1969 and Dignity in Dying in 2006. While the names have changed, the fundamental ideas and motivations of their adherents have not.

With regard to healthcare, the State sees its role as spending money and saving lives. So keen has the State been to do this that, in the past 18 months, we have seen the destruction of inherent rights and freedoms to “keep us safe” as they focus on a single disease. Whether these will be restored is a moot point, but my point here is that the state overreach has happened and that it has been largely accepted, on the basis of a narrative.

For now, let’s assume that we do go back to normal. In the future, the state government will have large debts, increasing areas of activity, a weakening fiat currency and an increasing healthcare bill as the population ages. Legalise voluntary euthanasia — and what could possibly go wrong? In short, in a secular society that has abandoned moral principles for narratives, what is to stop the State from switching from spending money and saving lives to saving money and spending lives? [2]

At this point, if you think: “Ha – got you – slippery slope loses the argument,” think again.

Euthanasia legislation is the initial and partial implementation of an agenda that was set out a long time ago. We have been here before: the quotes at the beginning of the article come from letters of condolence to families of the victims of the Nazi T4 program. Their words reveal that the enthusiasts for euthanasia understood that, when it comes to getting people to accept the murder of the vulnerable and inferior, narrative is key.


[1] Excerpts taken from page 104 of The Origins of Nazi Genocide: From Euthanasia to the Final Solution by Henry Friedlander.

[2] This phrase comes from the name of Part 1 of Death and Deliverance: Euthanasia in Germany 1900 to 1945 by Michael Burleigh.

Mark Sutherland is the curator of hallidaysutherland.com, a website that celebrates the life and work of Dr Halliday Sutherland. Mark is an experienced executive coach and facilitator, and an accomplished...