Much to learn from Raphael Lemkin

This man, born some 50 miles or so from my maternal grandfather's village in Poland, revolutionized international law by coining the word "genocide."

He also labored tirelessly for international acceptance of the concept of genocide as a way to judge, morally and legally, targeted efforts to eliminate a people.

I have discovered fellow traveler Raphael Lemkin through Samantha Power's gripping book, "A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide." The book received a Pulitzer Prize and is much to be admired. Power unfolds her story - the story of evil and how lawmakers have consistently ignored and thereby aiding, abetted and conspired in it - like a novel engineered by a precise and careful academic, that is to say, through story-telling jammed with research.

Raphael Lemkin. Born a Polish Jew, made sensitive to language and its power to authenticate human experience by giving names, in an exercise that goes back to the story of Adam in Genesis. Studied, therefore, philology, and then law. Made sensitive to discrimination, extermination, murder, by the pogroms and anti-Semitic fury that had engulfed Europe, including his birthplace, ultimately destroying most of his family. "Lemkin grew up on a sprawling farm in eastern Poland ... some 50 miles from the city of Bialystock," which was where my Zaydie's family also lived.

I can see my Zaydie in Raphael Lemkin, and also myself. Study of Talmud, respect for law, and "'an impressionable youngster, learning to sentimentality,' he wrote years later. 'I was appalled by the frequency of the evil ... and above all, by the impunity coldly relied upon by the guilty.'" So writes Samantha Power quoting his unofficial autobiography.

Early on, Lemkin studied the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks, and concluded that what has happened, will happen again unless efforts are made to prevent it. He asked his professors why no one stopped the Turkish government from perpetrating the massacre, and was told that there was no legal rule permitting another nation to violate Turkish sovereignty to prevent massacre of its own citizens. Lemkin determined then to create such a law -- or better said, to help humanity create such a law, embodying its own conscience.

The rest of the story takes the better part of several decades, but essentially in the days before email, Lemkin was creative force behind a new concept - genocide; its chief spokesperson; lobbyist; draftsperson; scholar; marshalling a myriad of organizations behind the cause, while simultaneously writing a 700+ page legal treatise that principally collected all the hateful Nazi laws that enabled and perpetrated the Nazi genocidal agenda, and thus sensitizing the world conscience by accumulating a mass of evidence and documentation that could not be ignored or sanitized away.

Lemkin, an unlikely hero, whose personal anguish in this extinction of his family and his people fueled a lifelong passion to protect, and promote the preservation of, a precious principle: respect for humanity, condemnation of organized attempts to eliminate a part thereof. Lemkin also the human being, who dreaded becoming bald and a refugee (in that order), and who lobbied, organized, solicited, badgered and pestered, cornered and lectured, implored and importuned, and ultimately persuaded, leading to enormous transformations in consciousness - embodied in law - up to decades following his physical life.

As Samantha Power writes: "Lemkin's crusade took on a specific objective: the search for a new word.....Maybe if he could capture the crime in a word that connoted something truly unique and evil, people and politicians alike might get more exercised about stopping it.....Convinced that it was only the packaging of his legal and moral cause that needed refining, he began to hunt for a term commensurate with the truth of his experience and the experience of millions. he would be the one to give the ultimate crime a name." (p. 29)

Lemkin's words, as I read them, are direct, raw, unvarnished. They go straight to the heart, to the conscience and to the analytical part that understands, that yearns to abort the preventable sorrow. Lemkin writes in the poetic yet fiery language of the prophets -- righteous indignation that is deserved, that emanates from an uplifted embrace of human responsibility for our own moral sensibility, and our duty toward one another.

I am still early in the book, but Power, using Lemkin's development of a principle of international law as the backdrop for her larger story, seems to centrally argue that foreign policy -- whatever one's position or particular critique -- has been missing one critical element: respect for the person....the notion that individuals matter (whether they are American, Iraqi, Armenian, Jewish, known by any grouping or category). If, she argues, for example Iraqi citizens had been taken into account, the decision to invade Iraq would have been different. People matter; individuals and their families matter. This is a profound message, it is not simply political science reworked or an anti-Bush message or a specific condemnation or championing of untenable choice A vs. B. Powers champions the human soul, I would say - the irreplaceable preciousness of each human being.

In Buddhist terms, what is lacking in foreign policy is compassion. In mystical spiritual terms, same thing. How we can overlook the effect on ordinary people and enmesh ourselves in a web of verbal delusion and justification? At one point, she borrows from another scholar "the categories of justification--failure, perversity, and jeopardy." She decries such justification, and the "spin" in a "system that speaks principally in the cold language of 'interests'" and not in the warm flesh and blood language of human lives.

And for this I am grateful.

Synchronistically, only some days ago someone mentioned to me the connection between health and human rights -- a connection to be further reseached and developed. In complementary health care, many desire the right to choose the care with which one most closely resonates, and not simply the pharmaceutical product or a hegemonic epistemology with which one's white-coated physician may be most comfortable.

This is understandable, and the battle between paternalism and autonomy is waged on many fronts. Even now, according to a recent news story in Canada, child is being forced to endure chemotherapy, while the child's spirit wishes to be free, and the child is being ripped from his parents, who only have love in their hearts. There is nothing wrong with informed opinion, even as words fail to contain what this family is experiencing. What sad ignorance and blighted fundamentalism is being inflicted by the collusion of medical delusion and fear of death, fear of choice.

More to the policy point, turn to Chapter 6 of the Institute of Medicine Report on Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2005) and read on the 5 ethical values, which include the patient's right to choose (autonomy), as well as valuing medical pluralism, and suspending categorial disbelief in foreign epistemologies.

Raphael Lemkin, tireless devotee pf the idea that crimes must be named in order to be stopped. Your efforts resulted among other things in the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

War crimes. Hatred. Genocide. Human rights. Refugees. Healing - physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, environmental. Planetary. Evolution - maturity - advancement. Psychological growth, psychological healing. Reconciliation. Forgiveness. Atonement. Perpetrator and complicit silent co-conspirator. Acknowledgement and reparation. Spiritual healing, sewing up the wounds of abuse and trauma, cultural, national. A bright golden thread links these themes. In the meanwhile, the story of Raphael Lemkin's commitment, tenacity, perspicacity and brilliance serve to inspire. May we meet and exchange notes, here or in olam ha-bah, perhaps here or in a dream, a vision, a meditation, the silent still place deep in the night, may the golden vessel of deep respect for all beings be mercifully restored everywhere, and may the golden thread continue to weave a pattern of legal rectitude and global rectification.
The Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on holistic, alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies. The law firm represents medical doctors, allied health professionals (from psychologists to nurses and dentists) and other clinicians (from chiropractors to naturopathic physicians, massage therapists, and acupuncturists), entrepreneurs, hospitals, and educational organizations, health care institutions, and individuals and corporations.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of The Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine, a nonprofit organization exploring legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, naturopathic medicine, homeopathy, massage therapy, energy healing, and herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. Michael H. Cohen is author of books on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy dealing with complementary, alternative and integrative medicine, including Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion, Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).
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Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has been admitted to the Bar of California, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington D.C. In addition to qualifying as a U.S. attorney, he has been admitted and to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing). For more information regarding the law practice of attorney Michael H. Cohen, see the FAQs for the Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen. Thank you for visiting the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog.