"Jeder hat das Recht auf Leben und körperliche Unversehrtheit." (Grundgesetz, Artikel 2) "Everyone has the right to life and physical integrity." (Basic Law, Article 2)
It doesn’t happen that often anymore, but today I cried — for quite a while — as we were walking through Pforzheim’s cemetery. Nothing special, that’s what most people do when they are alive and in a cemetery, you’ll think. But this was special.
It was like a walk through my fatherlands’s history. And my present. At a level I had never expected.
It had rained all morning and we only went out when there was a break in the clouds and we were getting desperate for a breath of fresh air. Everything in Pforzheim is either up a hill or down a hill (and then up on the way home). We opted to go up the hill first and entered Pforzheim’s main cemetery. Many seasoned travellers will tell you that if you want to get to know a country, see how its people bury their dead.
First impression: this place is at least as beautiful as Dublin’s Botanic Gardens. Unbelievable. It took a few steps into the place for us to start our journey through history. There were monuments erected by the Butcher’s Association, and a few steps down one lane another by the Bakers’ Association remembering their dead during World War II, and especially those who had died in Pforzheim on 23 February 1945. There was a Jewish plot for those people of Pforzheim whose graves had been destroyed in the late 1930s by the Nazis.
Then we saw this gigantic cross behind the trees overlooking a huge field. This must be where those who lost their lives as soldiers during the world wars must be buried, I thought. And that is exactly what it looked like until we saw this date again: 23 February 1945. I jumped down the wall into the field with a huge number of small grave stones, each showing the names of dozens of people. And then, looking back up towards the huge cross, it said:
Den siebzehntausend Opfern des 23 Februar 1945.
In Memory of the seventeen thousand victims of 23 February 1945.
This is what wikipedia says about the attack:
“One of the most devastating area bombardments of the war was carried out by the Royal Air Force (RAF) on the evening of February 23, 1945. As many as 17,600 people, representing 31.4% of the town’s population, were killed in the air raid. About 83% of the town’s buildings were destroyed, two-thirds of the complete area of Pforzheim and between 80 and 100% of the inner city.”
The attack lasted for just 22 minutes.
I walked around the field with all those gravestones. At the end, there was a white wall with three bronze plaques. And what I read there, was what made me physically almost disintegrate.
The plaques remembered (“In Memoriam and Commitment”) the old, disabled and sick people, and listed their names, who had been killed by the Nazis.
The last sentence on the last plaque read:
Everybody has the right to life and physical integrity. (Basic Law. Article 2)
A statement to show that the Germans have learned from history. (This is also what a German judge told us during a formal hearing at Pádraig’s bedside in a Hamburg hospital – and the reason why doctors are *never* allowed to treat people without their consent or that of their appointed guardians, usually family members.)
There is scientific evidence suggesting that 60% of those diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state in Ireland are, in fact, conscious. There is very strong scientific evidence suggesting that once someone is in, even, a minimally conscious state it is almost impossible to predict to which level they will recover. There is overwhelming scientific evidence suggesting that the only proven approach to recovery is intensive physical and mental exercise. Scientific research has produced lists as long as my arm with diseases and illnesses caused by ‘just’ lying in bed and lack of exercise. A lot of them ultimately causing the death of the person in question. Most of them causing untold mental and physical suffering. Untold because most of these incredibly vulnerable people we are talking about are non-verbal and cannot speak up to defend themselves.
What is the difference between actively killing someone who has a very severe disability and abandoning them in a bed in a nursing home (or their own home) without the appropriate support? Cost? Time? Suffering?
We know what needs to be done. The Irish health system knows what needs to be done. It has agreed, in late 2016, to take one first very small step and support the An Saol Foundation’s pilot project. It has taken more than a year to sign a service agreement. More than four months have passed since I signed this service agreement.
And what has followed since is: silence.
None of this is easy or straight forward. Comparisons never hold. But this silence today during our walk, these monuments, the experience of the silence we have experienced, deeply touched me. Very deeply. In many cases it is the deafening silence from those who know that makes atrocities, injustice, crimes and human rights violations possible. Our case is just one of many. But it is ours and, whatever happens, we will take care of it. Never again. In Memoriam and Commitment.