8 June 2017
My name is Peter Renner and I live in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. At age 74 I’m embarking on a two-year graduate program to keep my brain from atrophying and to acquaint myself with historical and contemporary issues in the country of my birth. I left Germany at age 21, having completed eight years of basic schooling (Volksschule) and five years apprenticing in the hotel business. After immigrating to Canada in 1966, I earned diplomas in hotel management, adult education and counselling (UBC), a master’s degree (SFU), and a doctorate in educational leadership (UBC)—mostly part-time or during summer semesters. For 25 years I worked in corporate and higher education classrooms, authored three books on teaching adults and, since my so-called retirement in 2000, became a student of Buddhism, worked in hospice spiritual care, and volunteered in cancer and geriatric care. Obviously, I have no training or experience in history, sociology, or Germanic studies.
In June 2016 the Canadian parliament passed legislation to allow physician-assisted suicide (MAiD) for people who’re terminally ill. A year earlier the German parliament (Bundestag) had grappled with the same topic (Sterbehilfe or help in dying) and, after much debate, decided to keep the right of anyone to aid in another’s suicide but outlawed the commercial provision of such services and legislated against physicians to legally assist.
As I looked more closely at the German situation, comparing it with such jurisdictions as Oregon, Washington State, Vermont, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Switzerland where physician-assisted suicide (PAS) is available, I began to wonder what prevented German lawmakers from voting to permit PAS. Could the explanations lurk in the dark chapter of German history when, between 1933 and 1945, thousands deemed to live “lives unworthy of living” were forcibly sterilized and/or systematically killed?
Thus my initial research question: (How) is the German debate about assisted suicide influenced by memories of crimes perpetrated under Hitler?
7 Aug 2017
On my supervisor’s advice, the focus of my investigation is shifting and narrowing. Thus far, I’ve been reading about people and events surrounding physician-assisted suicide (PAS) from two ends of the historical spectrum: prior to, during, and following the Nazi era and the contemporary public and parliamentary debate.
Along the way I was struck by the slow process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (coming to terms with or overcoming the past) among historians, law makers, and especially the legal and medical professions. What if I were to critically analyse the medical profession as it embraced Nazi racial policies, participated in systematic killings, and, after 1945, evaded legal proceedings, denied and covered-up wrong doings, and, often frequently re-emerged in lucrative careers, academic posts, and public honours. What might be the reasons for this lack of or delay in working-through (Aufarbeitung) the past? Who were some of the key events and players? What has been happening in terms of academic research, memorization, apologies, and restitution? What about personal and collective guilt and shame? And what of the new (current) generation of medical professionals?