November 30, 2022

Distelmans under fire over Auschwitz trip

Belgium’s foremost practitioner of euthanasia who is also the head of the government euthanasia regulator has become collateral damage in the debate across the Channel.

Belgium’s foremost practitioner of euthanasia who is also the head of the government euthanasia regulator has become collateral damage in the debate across the Channel. As the war of words intensified in England ahead of a debate today in the House of Lords over Lord Falconer’s assisted suicide bill, the Daily Mail ran a feature about Dr Wim Distelman’s controversial plans to tour Auschwitz in September.

Although Dr Distelmans insists that the purpose of the “study tour” is a deeper understanding of human rights, suffering and palliative care, the people who responded to the Daily Mail were aghast.

A Jewish Labor member of Parliament Labour MP, Sir Gerald Kaufman, commented: “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 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.”

The news flew back across the Channel to Belgium where Dr Distelmans was subjected to surprisingly sceptical questioning from a normally supportive press. The headline in Het Nieuwsblad was “Britten noemen Distelmans ‘Dokter Dood’”—“the British call Distelmans Doctor Death”. “That headline [in the Daily Mail] is obscene,” protested Dr Distelmans. “I think this is terrible. It suggests that we are going there to find a better way to euthanize people. You must have a morbid mind to think that.” He described the attacks on him and his study tour “gutter journalism”. 

Even less sympathetic was the Belgian newspaper Joods Actueel (Jewish News). Its editor, Michael Freilich, said, “Any use of the Holocaust to defend one’s own interests is wrong, but to plan such a seminar in Auschwitz is degrading.” 

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Creative commons
Belgium
euthanasia
Wim Distelmans