Thursday, April 26, 2012

Modern Medicine's Nazi Heritage

The following is a very serious and often quoted allegation.

Mengele medicus: medicine's Nazi heritage. [Milbank Q. 1988] - PubMed - NCBI: genotype


Nazi medicine is commonly considered to be an aberration that began and ended with the horrors of the Hitler regime. But its beginnings were more gradual and its legacy is more pernicious. Data derived from research conducted on unknowing and unwilling subjects in death camps continue to be cited in authoritative contemporary medical literature. Nazi medicine has become a part of the professional genotype of modern medicine. This continuing influence of Nazi medicine raises profound questions for the epistemology and morality of medicine
Genotype refers to the genetic constitution of an organism. Is the allegation true? Is the legacy of Nazi medicine pernicious, harmful in a subtle and growing manner? Is this indeed how modern medicine functions? Are unknowing and even unwilling subjects still used for experiments? Is critical information withheld from those who have a right to know? Do patients have the right to refuse treatment?

MedlinePlus lifts up the following questions about current medical ethics:
The field of ethics studies principles of right and wrong. There is hardly an area in medicine that doesn't have an ethical aspect. For example, there are ethical issues relating to
  • End of life care: Should a patient receive nutrition? What about advance directives and resuscitation orders?
  • Abortion: When does life begin? Is it ethical to terminate a pregnancy with a birth defect?
  • Genetic and prenatal testing: What happens if you are a carrier of a defect? What if testing shows that your unborn baby has a defect?
  • Birth control: Should it be available to minors?
  • Is it ethical to harvest embryonic stem cells to treat diseases?
  • Organ donation: Must a relative donate an organ to a sick relative?
  • Your personal health information: who has access to your records?
  • Patient rights: Do you have the right to refuse treatment?
  • When you talk with your doctor, is it ethical for her to withhold information from you or your family?
The following is from G. Aumuller and K. Grundmann (2002). "Anatomy during the Third Reich - The Institute of Anatomy at the University of Marburg, as an example." Annals of Anatomy-Anatomischer Anzeiger 184(3): 295-303.
A complete documentation of German anatomical science and its representatives during the period of National Socialism has not been published as yet - contrary to the situation in other medical disciplines. Instead of German anatomists, American anatomists have occasionally addressed this issue during their meetings and have reported on special aspects, such as the use of Nazi symbols in anatomical textbooks and atlases (Pernkopf 1952) and the use of corpses of justice victims for anatomical research and student education. 
Also, the genesis of the atrocious collection of "racial" skulls, initiated along with the SS-institution of the Ahnenerbe by the anatomist August Hirt of Strasbourg (who ordered more than 90 inmates from concentration camps to be murdered in the gas chamber built in the concentration camp of Natzweiler-Struthof close to Strasbourg, Alsace) has been described by Frederic Kasten and others. 
A broader view of the patterns of behaviour and political actions and fates of contemporary scientists, ranging from dismissal to clandestine opportunism, affirmative cooperation and fanatic activism can be obtained by the analysis of the activities in research, medical education and academic positions of the following members of the Institute of Anatomy at the Philipp-University in Marburg: Ernst Goppert, Eduard Jacobshagen, Ernst-Theodor Nauck, Adolf Dabelow, Helmut Becher and Alfred Berminghoff, whose activities and fates differ in several respects and allow more general deductions. 
Also, the individual fates of a number of prosecuted Jewish anatomists (Wassermann, Munchen; Poll, Hamburg), of devoted and active members of the Nazi party (Clara, Leipzig; Blotevogel, Breslau) and of criminal fanatics (Hirt, Strasbourg; Kremer, Munster) are briefly discussed. The present contribution is an attempt to initiate a more detailed study of all German departments of anatomy during the Hitler regime and to generate a public discussion among the younger generation of German anatomists.

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