Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Consistent Abolitionist: The Extreme Case of Dr Gisella Perl (Part 1)

Having been asked about a very difficult topic by a commenter, we at the Abolitionist Society would like to offer our thoughts. Specifically, that which follows is a collaborative effort of Matthew Martellus, Ian John Philoponus, and Rhology.

We invite you to steel yourself and read the heart-rending and amazingly horrible story of Dr Gisella Perl, the "Angel of Auschwitz".
When Dr. Perl first arrived in Auschwitz, the fate of all pregnant women entering the camp was the same - an immediate trip to the gas chambers. Later, the fate of some became even more horrific: the women were subjected to gruesome medical experiments before being killed, or worse, burned alive without being murdered first.

In an interview with Nadine Brozan for the New York Times in 1982, Dr. Perl recalled her initial experiences with Dr. Mengele's "cure" for pregnancy in Auschwitz. "Dr. Mengele told me that it was my duty to report every pregnant woman to him," Dr. Perl said. "He said that they would go to another camp for better nutrition, even for milk. So women began to run directly to him, telling him, 'I am pregnant.' I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium. I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz."

After Dr. Perl's startling realization of the fates of the pregnant women discovered by Dr. Mengele, she began to perform surgeries that before the war she would have believed herself incapable of - abortions.
The most important factor in this story is the surrounding context - Dr Perl was living and working in a Nazi death camp. This is perhaps the single most terrible environment in which anyone has ever found him/herself, perhaps the single darkest page of human history. This is as bad as it gets, and Dr Perl lived and worked there from March 1944 until she was transferred to Bergen-Belsen (an even worse death camp than Auschwitz, if that were possible) and was kept there until its liberation in late 1945.

We invite you to consider the worst experience you have ever undergone. How long did it last? One of the authors of this article has had food poisoning and been in agony a few days, has lost a child, has been betrayed by a loved one. In the days following, would he have been entirely within his rational faculties' powers, such that he would be assured of making close to fully reasonable decisions? That is doubtful.

Dr Perl lived in a far worse situation than you have ever even glimpsed, for far longer than you have lived it. Our inquirer may be wondering to what extent we abolitionists will be willing to judge Dr Perl or criticise her, and the answer is: To a very small extent.

The question here surrounds the justifiable actions that someone in Dr Perl's situation could have taken. Let's consider the environment for the pregnant women Dr Perl encountered.

Extremely unhealthy, dirty, dangerous conditions
Perl and her fellow doctors were given virtually no medical instruments, no bandages, no clean water or any disinfectants, no medicine apart from a few aspirin, no clean linens or sheets.
One public latrine for 30,000+ women meant that one either had to wade through knee-deep sewage to add to the pile or to soil oneself and remain that way.
Death was an everyday occurrence, disease a constant reality. Beyond that, there were injuries to deal with and to try to keep from getting infected - from fights over food, from guards' whips, boots, and fists, from falls or other accidents sustained during manual labor, from debris on the ground, etc.
Here in the modern West, we're a bit put out if we cut our finger cooking and don't have a Band-Aid handy.

Insufficient caloric intake
The exact daily caloric intake of prisoners ranges between sources, with some estimating as low as 700 calories per day, while others estimate closer to 1,300-1,700 calories (1,300 for prisoners doing light labor and 1,700 calories for prisoners doing heavy labor).
Given this factor alone, these pregnant women's hopes of carrying their babies to term were dim. Their babies' hopes of surviving on so little nourishment were perhaps dimmer still.

Born babies' destiny
In Auschwitz, infants were immediately killed through a variety of methods, both by Nazi and Jewish medical staff by 'pinch(ing) and clos(ing)' the newborn's nostrils and when it opened its mouth to breathe... gave it a dose of lethal product, or drowning it in a pail of whatever liquid was available. The staff preferred this death to watching the child starve to death, according to Mengele's orders.
This is, in fact, the modern abortician.
(Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams) alleged (abortician Kermit) Gosnell would induce labour in his patients and the babies would be born ‘squirming and crying’ before having their spines cut. Some of the filthy operation rooms had litter boxes and animals present at the times of the operations, according to court documents. (Source)

Gosnell "induced labor, forced the live birth of viable babies in the sixth, seventh, eighth month of pregnancy and then killed those babies by cutting into the back of the neck with scissors and severing their spinal cord," Williams said. (Source)

Prosecutors estimated Gosnell ended hundreds of pregnancies by cutting the spinal cords, but they said they couldn't prosecute more cases because he destroyed files...Gosnell sometimes joked about the babies, saying one was so large he could 'walk me to the bus stop,' according to the report." (Source)
Compare this carnage to Perl's statement:
I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium. I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz.
(Emphasis ours)

Perl believed that the unborn baby, even a very young one, was a human life: "No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies, but if I had not done it, both mother and child would have been cruelly murdered."

Are these the words of someone who gleefully engaged in "upholding a woman's right to choose"?

Dr Perl's example during the Holocaust and her stated motivations are far closer to that of a modern abolitionist than that of a modern pro-choicer, for she respected the life of the baby as worthy of protection.

See Part 2 for the rundown of blame, the abolitionist's response, and the solution to this seeming no-win situation.

(Please leave any comments at the Abolitionist Society blog.)