22 MAY 1941, Page 5


A. REMARKABLE piece of information, to which I have seen no reference in this country, appears in the New Republic of May 5th. In that issue there is reproduced, as basis for an article from the paper's Washington correspondent (or Washington editor, as they call them there) a copy of the Acta Apostolicae Sedis for December a5th, containing a question to, and answer by, the Pope. The question was whether it was permissible (licitum) to kill deliberately people who, on account of mental or physical defects, were no longer able to benefit a nation, but simply became a burden to it. The answer was that it was not, for such an act was contrary to positive natural and divine law. There is little in that as it stands. The interest is in what lay behind it. The questioner was a German bishop, the cause of the question the fact that "in September, October and November of 1940, 85,000 blind, incurable ill or aged Germans were put to death by the Gestapo. They were put to death as casually as the S.P.C.A. chloroforms old and helpless dogs." The systematic murder was discovered when some priests in the town of Urach noticed that elderly people in the hospital were dying in increasing numbers and dying on certain days of the week. At first poison was injected into their veins ; later the injection of air-bubbles (has not Dorothy Sayers exploited the process in one of her books?) was found to be as effective and to have the merit of costing nothing. What the writer rather unnecessarily dignifies with the name euthanasia on the great scale is presumably still continuing. Atrocity stories ought always to be scrupulously sifted; I am simply summarising the New Republic article. But the official Vatican record of the question and answer is strong presumptive evidence in itself.