DailyMail: A controversial doctor who practices euthanasia has sparked outrage by organizing a tour to Auschwitz because he says the Nazi death damp is “inspiring”.
Belgian doctor Wim Distelmans, who has been dubbed “Dr. Death” for administering lethal injections, claims the visit will “clarify confusion” about dying as well as addressing the issue of euthanasia.
But Jewish and anti-euthanasia campaigners have reacted with horror, saying the trip, billed as a study tour, is “offensive and shocking”.
Labour MP Sir Gerald Kaufman said: “To make the notorious Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz the centre for a congenial study-trip is preposterous, if not obscene.”
“Whatever one’s views on euthanasia – and I am against it – it is abominable to describe Auschwitz as an “inspiring venue”. What went on at Auschwitz and the other death camps was mass murder of innocents – children, women, and men.”
Dr. Distelmans, who coordinates legalized killings from his Brussels clinic, has circulated a brochure advertising the three-day tour, including visits to the Auschwitz gas chambers and a “seminar” on issues including euthanasia, which is legal in Belgium.
He said in the leaflet that Auschwitz, in Poland, where a million people were put to death, was “the pre-eminent symbol of a degrading end of life”. He added: “This site is an inspiring venue for organizing a seminar and reflecting on these issue so that we can consider and clarify confusions.”
The row coincides with controversy over attempts by the Labour peer and former Chancellor Lord Falconer to legalize assisted suicide in Britain, which critics say could prove a “slippery slope” towards widespread killing of the sick.
Under Lord Falconer’s Bill, which receives it second reading in the Lords on Friday, doctors would be able to prescribe terminally ill patients a lethal dose of drugs, but the patient would have to take the drugs themselves.
Belgium has gone a step further by allowing doctors to legally administer a fatal dose. Dr. Distelmans, 60, gained notoriety after he was shown on TV ending the life of Nathan Verhelst, 44, a transsexual who asked to die after doctors botched his sex change surgery. Last year, he performed the world’s first double euthanasia for deaf twin brothers after they learned that they were going blind.
According to a leaflet advertising the tour, the visit to Auschwitz will take place on October 9, and will include a “scientific programme”, details of which are not yet finalized.
It says they will be accompanied by documentary make Lydia Chagoll, who was imprisoned in a Japanese camp during the Second World War, and participate in a “symposium”.
However, a spokesman for Auschwitz said the group was only booked in for a routine tour led by official guides who will relate the history of the camp and show them the key areas including the gas chambers.
The group will also visit Birkenau to see where Jews were herded off the transportation trains and selected to go straight to the gas chamber or to become prisoners.
Liberal democrat peer Lord Carlile, the son of Polish Jewish immigrants, said: “This is shocking. It will cause offence to a lot of people throughout Europe, whichever side of the argument they are on. I am all in favour of people going to Auschwitz to find out the oppression that happened there, but to describe it as an inspiring setting suggests he is either mad, stupid, or incompetent.”
Anti-euthanasia campaigner Baroness Grey-Thompson, the British Paralympian, said: “To describe Auschwitz as ‘inspiring’ is very upsetting and very disturbing. It is appalling.”
Dr. Distelmans was unavailable for comment, but he earlier told the Jewish Chronicle he had been shocked by criticisms. He was quoted as saying: “Firstly, this is not a symposium about euthanasia. It’s a study trip focusing on human rights, suffering, and palliative care. We will mention euthanasia, but that is not the main goal of the trip. The participants are all professionals working in palliative care. They work every day with patients who suffer pain and death.”
“Our main goal is to visit the death camp where all these atrocities took place. Secondly, many of the participants were not in favour of a law on euthanasia, but changed their mind after the law came into action.”
“There is obviously no link between euthanasia in Belgium and what happened in Auschwitz. The Nazis used the term ‘euthanasia’ wrongly.”
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