World War II

Euthanasia Society Scolds Doctor for Characterization of Hitler's Holocaust

Euthanasia Society Scolds Doctor for Characterization of Hitler’s Holocaust

 

In this letter, Euthanasia Society President Pauline B. Taylor asks American Advisory Council member and eugenicist Leon F. Whitney for advice about combatting the use of the term “euthanasia” in trials of Nazi war criminals.

 

[EUTHANSIA.] Pauline B. Taylor, Typed Letter Signed, on Euthanasia Society of America letterhead, to Leon F. Whitney, March 1964. 2 pp., 8.5" x 11"

 

Excerpts

“At present we are concerned about the misleading and prejudicial use of the word ‘euthanasia’ in reports of trials of persons accused of participating in Hitler’s extermination programs. Would you be willing to write to the newspapers to clarify the meaning of euthanasia as good or merciful death rather than mass murder? If you prefer not to take direct action on this point, would you send us some suggestion about the kind of protest we should make?”

 

“We should like help in placing euthanasia adverstisements. Our copy has been accepted and run by the New York Times and also the Reporter magazine. However, a number of magazines have refused to accept our advertisement (copy enclosed). Those which have refused now include The Saturday Review of Literature, Harper’s and the Atlantic Monthly.”

 

“Do you feel that we should continue our efforts to influence public opinion in our favor, or do you think we should again attempt to have legislation introduced? If you favor the legislative approach, do you know of any legislator brave enough to introduce a euthansia measure?”

 

Historical Background

In 1938, Rev. Charles Francis Potter founded the Euthansia Society of America (ESA), which tried until the 1960s to change the law. In the 1960s, the society shifted its focus to the right to consent to or refuse medical treatment. In 1967, Pauline Taylor created the Euthansia Educational Fund, soon renamed to Euthansia Educational Council, as a tax-exempt charitable organization to promote the idea of living wills. In the mid-1970s, the society changed its name to the Society for the Right to Die.

 

According to Ian Dowbiggin, in his study of the euthanasia movement in America, “Taylor... began the ESA's soul-searching process that led to a major shift in the philosophy for the entire American euthanasia movement. She believed the ESA in the past had overemphasized the soundness of an individual's decision to have his or her life ended if terminally ill and in unbearable pain... Taylor concluded that the time was ripe to...begin convincing the public that letting someone die, instead of resorting to extreme measures, was both humane and ethically permissible.”

 

 

Pauline Billings Taylor (1910-1986) was born in New York to Richard Billings and May Merrill Billings. Her mother was a graduate of Wellesley College, an ardent suffragette, and a supporter of Margaret Sanger’s crusade for birth control. Pauline Billings graduated from Vassar College in 1932, married attorney Carl Taylor later that year, and became an attorney herself in New York City from at least 1953 to 1960. She was director of the Birth Control League of America and served as president of the Euthanasia Society of America from 1962 to 1965. She also collected Russian art, especially costumes and sets for opera, ballet, and theater.

 

Leon F. Whitney (1894-1973) was born in New York City, and graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1916. He became a biologist and veterinarian and wrote numerous books about the care of pets, especially dogs. He was also a radical eugenicist and secretary of the American Eugenics Society. In his 1934 book The Case for Sterilization, Whitney called for the sterilization of ten million “defective” Americans. Adolf Hitler sent Whitney a letter commending the book, and Whitney praised Hitler as “one of the greatest statesmen and social planners in the world” for his plan to sterilize as many as 400,000 “defective” Germans. From 1940 to 1964, Whitney was a clinical instructor in pathology at the Yale School of Medicine. He married Katharine Carroll Sackett in 1916, and they had two children.

 

Condition: Small hole in upper left corner used for binding, not affecting text. Text clear and dark. Signature feathered.

 

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Item: 63864

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