Earlier this year, Dr. Wim Distelmans raised eyebrows when it was revealed that he was organizing a euthanasia tour of Auschwitz, a venue that he called “inspiring” — not entirely surprising when you practice the art of dealing death, as Distelmans is.
His trip has now concluded, with about 70 people attending, most of whom practice euthanasia in Belgium. Protests surrounded the trip, and especially Distelmans himself. The German publication Der Spiegel described the trip this way:
That evening, the group checks into the Hilton Garden Inn Hotel. In the marble lobby there is a sign that reads “Dying with Dignity.” It is the evening before the visit to Auschwitz. “This way,” says the tour guide, as he directs the Belgians toward a conference room. The idea is to find the right frame of mind for Auschwitz. Distelmans steps up to the podium. “We are here today to allow ourselves to reflect on dying with dignity,” he says. “There were protests before our trip. But there is no better place than Auschwitz to ponder the meaning of dignity. When we deal with euthanasia, we must also come to terms with its opposite. In Belgium we use euthanasia in the original sense of the word: It means ‘good death.’ That’s the problem. We will have to explain over and over that we intend the opposite of what occurred in Auschwitz.”
… “But we have to make sure that we do not continue to treat our patients, against their wills, when they actually want to die. Nobody should assume that they have the power to judge what a life is worth. We must become the servants of our patients, and when it comes to the end, we have to accept our failure as physicians.”
Distelmans is correct that it is unethical to treat patients against their will. If a person wishes to discontinue treatment, then they have the right to do so. What he does not seem to understand is that there is a vast difference between withdrawing treatment, allowing death to occur naturally, and actively killing someone.
This tour of Auschwitz was highly criticized, including by the deputy director of the Auschwitz memorial, who said that attempts to link euthanasia to the history of Auschwitz was inappropriate.
Distelmans is now being referred to as “Dr. Death”, and orthodox Jews protested his description of Auschwitz as inspiring, calling him a professional killer — which, of course, he is. And that’s likely why he draws such inspiration from Auschwitz. Like the Nazis, Distelmans routinely kills the disabled and the mentally ill, people who believe that their lives are no longer worth living. Rather than affirming their inherent dignity and value as human being, Distelmans agrees with them, and will euthanize someone for going blind, or for suffering from depression, or for being transgender.
When you consider his history, then sure. A tour of Auschwitz to learn from the Nazis’ killing machine makes perfect sense.