The practice of medicine in Nazi Germany still profoundly affects modern-day medical ethics codes, according to Alan Wells, an expert in medical ethics with the American Medical Association (AMA) and Patricia Heberer, historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM). To teach those lessons to the next generation of physicians, the AMA and the USHMM announced plans to deliver a lecture series on the subject to medical schools around U.S. The collaboration between the AMA and the Holocaust Museum coincides with the Museum's special exhibition, "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race."
"During the 1930s, the German medical establishment was admired as a world leader in innovative public health and medical research," Dr. Wells said. "The question we want to examine is: 'How could science be co-opted in such a way that doctors as healers evolved into killers and medical research became torture?'" Dr. Wells and Dr. Heberer said. "The story of medicine under Nazism is instructive and an important theme in understanding the evolution of the Holocaust," said Dr. Heberer.
"Many of the most important issues in medical ethics today — from genetic testing and stem cell research to caring for prisoners of war are directly affected by the experiences of medicine leading up to and during the Holocaust," Dr. Wells said. "Physicians need to explore these issues without getting caught up in political agendas or the results can be something we never intended and cause great harm."
According to Dr. Wells, World War II era Germans were extremely advanced in medicine, technology and public health research but these successes have largely been overlooked by history because of the medical extremes of the Holocaust. These advances and campaigns, however, were eventually aimed exclusively at the "Aryans" — the Nazi ideal of the "master race."
"Adolf Hitler spoke of Germany as a body with himself as the doctor," Dr. Wells said. "He wanted to make Germany 'healthy' by eliminating diseased, unhealthy parts of the body. At first this meant killing the disabled. But because the Nazis also believed that Jews possessed 'bad' genes, they, too, came to be portrayed by public health 'experts' and 'scientists' as a threat to racial purity and a healthy nation."
These actions grew from a theory called 'eugenics' (using selective breeding to improve the genetic quality of a species), which came from a distortion of Charles Darwin's theories of "survival of the fittest," according to Dr. Heberer. Some eugenics programs, such as laws sanctioning the sterilization of the 'feeble minded,' initially met with resistance throughout the world, including in Germany. But when the Nazis came to power, and particularly during World War II, these constraints disappeared as the Nazi regime was able to implement its radical version of medicine. >from *Nazis and Medical Ethics: Context and Lessons* october 13, 2004
> deadly medicine: creating the master race". museum exhibition. april 22, 2004 - october 16, 2005
> alleged north korean human experimentation. 'there have been several reports of alleged north korean human experimentation. if true, these reports show human rights abuses similar to those of nazi and japanese human experimentation in world war II.'
> eugenics and america's campaign to create a master race. war against the weak by edwin black. 'how american corporate philanthropies launched a national campaign of ethnic cleansing in the united states, helped found and fund the nazi eugenics of hitler and mengele — and then created the modern movement of 'human genetics.'
> science misuse. 'according to the scientists, the bush administration has, among other abuses, suppressed and distorted scientific analysis from federal agencies, and taken actions that have undermined the quality of scientific advisory panels.' february 24, 2004
> racism can make you stupid. 'harboring racial bias in an increasingly diverse society may be bad for one's cognitive performance.' december 1, 2003
> mirroring evil: nazi imagery/recent art. 'these artworks draw us into the past, leading us to question how we understand the appalling forces that produced the holocaust. these works also keep us alert to the present, with its techniques of persuasion that are so easily taken for granted, its symbols of oppression that are too readily ignored.' march 22, 2002
> attacks on science: ethics and public health. 'to ensure the appropriate use of scientific evidence and the protection of the scientists who provide it, institutions and individuals must give deferential response to honest scientific challenges versus those from evident vested interests, build and diversify partnerships, assure the transparency of funding sources, agree on the rules for publications, and distinguish the point where science ends and policy begins.' january 11, 2002
> medical ethics? nazis and medicine