Belgian doctor Wim Distelmans, an advocate of euthanasia, has triggered controversy by planning a study trip to Auschwitz, which he describes as an “inspiring venue” in which to “clarify confusion” about mercy killing.
Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre called Prof Distelmans’s Auschwitz initiative “a travesty”.
“The connection he’s making is perverse. He has to stand down, cancel the trip and make a declaration condemning the so-called ‘mercy euthanasia’ practised by the Nazis,” he said.
Mr Samuels added that if the trip was simply a badly thought-out idea, the professor should at least admit he made a mistake.
Prof Distelmans told the JC that he was shocked by the criticisms.
“Firstly, this is not a symposium about euthanasia,” he argued. “It’s a study trip focusing on human rights, suffering and palliative care. We will mention euthanasia but that’s 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,” he said.
“Secondly, many of the participants don’t even support euthanasia,” Prof Distelmans added. “Several of them belong to the Catholic University of Louvain.
“The main speaker is a renowned researcher in her 80s who was detained in a Japanese concentration camp during the war.”
Prof Distelmans claimed: “It’s obvious there’s no link between euthanasia in Belgium and what happened in Auschwitz. The Nazis used the term ‘euthanasia’ wrongfully.”
Dr Distelmans got backing from Maurice Sosnowski, head of the CCOJB, the Belgian Jewish community umbrella group.
He said: “Those who oppose euthanasia are the ones saying that by extending it, we’re getting closer to Nazi ideology and serial organised murders.”
Dr Sosnowski, who works in a palliative care unit at a cancer hospital, added: “I believe that the professor’s goal was to counter that attack. He decided to go to Auschwitz and show that there is no possible comparison between Nazi murderers and doctors who practise euthanasia.”
But he added that organising the gathering in Auschwitz was “probably a mistake due to poor communication.”