Dimitra Chousou, Daniela Theodoridou, George Boutlas, Anna Batistatou, Christos Yapijakis, Maria Syrrou
Abstract Heredity and reproduction have always been matters of concern. Eugenics is a story that began well before the Holocaust, but the Holocaust completely changed the way eugenics was perceived at that time. What began with Galton (1883) as a scientific movement aimed at the improvement of the human race based on the theories and principles of heredity and statistics became by the beginning of the 20th century an international movement that sought to engineer human supremacy. Eugenic ideas, however, trace back to ancient Greek aristocratic ideas exemplified in Plato’s Republic, which played an important role in shaping modern eugenic social practices and government policies. Both positive (encouragement of the propagation of the fit, namely without hereditary afflictions, i.e. socially acceptable) and negative (institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia) eugenics focused on the encouragement of healthy and discouragement of unhealthy reproduction. All these practices were often based on existing prejudices about race and disability. In this article, we will focus on the rise of eugenics, starting with the publication of Origin of Species to the Holocaust. This examination will be multidisciplinary, utilizing genetics, legal history and bioethical aspects. Through this examination, we will discuss how provisional understandings of genetics influenced eugenics-based legislation. We will also discuss the rise of biopolitics, the change of medical ethos and stance towards negative eugenics policies, and the possible power of bioethical principles to prevent such phenomena.
Abstract Background: Hans Asperger (1906–1980) first designated a group of children with distinct psychological characteristics as ‘autistic psychopaths’ in 1938, several years before Leo Kanner’s famous 1943 paper on autism. In 1944, Asperger published a comprehensive study on the topic (submitted to Vienna University in 1942 as his postdoctoral thesis), which would only find international acknowledgement in the 1980s. From then on, the eponym ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ increasingly gained currency in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conceptualization of the condition. At the time, the fact that Asperger had spent pivotal years of his career in Nazi Vienna caused some controversy regarding his potential ties to National Socialism and its race hygiene policies. Documentary evidence was scarce, however, and over time a narrative of Asperger as an active opponent of National Socialism took hold. The main goal of this paper is to re-evaluate this narrative, which is based to a large extent on statements made by Asperger himself and on a small segment of his published work.
Methods: Drawing on a vast array of contemporary publications and previously unexplored archival documents (including Asperger’s personnel files and the clinical assessments he wrote on his patients), this paper offers a critical examination of Asperger’s life, politics, and career before and during the Nazi period in Austria.
Results: Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities. He joined several organizations affiliated with the NSDAP (although not the Nazi party itself), publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child ‘euthanasia’ program. The language he employed to diagnose his patients was often remarkably harsh (even in comparison with assessments written by the staff at Vienna’s notorious Spiegelgrund ‘euthanasia’ institution), belying the notion that he tried to protect the children under his care by embellishing their diagnoses.
Conclusion: The narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other race hygiene measures does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence. What emerges is a much more problematic role played by this pioneer of autism research. Future use of the eponym should reflect the troubling context of its origins in Nazi-era Vienna.
Abstract During the Nazi era, so-called euthanasia programs were established for handicapped and mentally ill children and adults. Organized killings of an estimated 70,000 German citizens took place at killing centers and in psychiatric institutions. Nurses were active participants; they intentionally killed more than 10,000 people in these involuntary euthanasia programs. After the war was over, most of the nurses were never punished for these crimes against humanity-although some nurses were tried along with the physicians they assisted. One such trial was of 14 nurses and was held in Munich in 1965. Although some of these nurses reported that they struggled with a guilty conscience, others did not see anything wrong with their actions, and they believed that they were releasing these patients from their suffering.
Extract While recent scholarship has – for the past two decades – endeavoured to transcend initial reservations about these forms of testimony, the difficulty with some of these memoirs – namely their authors’ implicit complicity in unethical medical research and in the Nazi Holocaust in general – remains however problematic. To address this thorny issue, in this article I consider the memoirs of a Jewish inmate doctor and forensic pathologist who worked with and for SS medical officers in Auschwitz, particularly Josef Mengele. His name was Mikló Nyiszli. . .
Abstract Under the Euthanasia Program of Nazi Germany, more than 200,000 psychiatric patients were killed by doctors in psychiatric institutions. After summarising the historical facts and the slow and still going-on process of illuminating and understanding what happened, some ethical consequences are drawn. What can we learn from history? The following aspects are addressed: the special situation of psychiatry in times of war, bioethics and biopolitics, the responsibility of the psychiatrist for the individual patient, the effects of hierarchy on personal conscience and responsibility, the unethical “curable- uncurable” distinction and the atrocious concept that persons differ in their value.
Gary W Clark, Kelly Latimer, Richard W Sams II, Gordon Zubrod
Extract Abortion training for residents is not simply a “politically charged” issue, as the authors assert. It is a moral or ethical issue. As faculty physicians in family medicine residency programs, we oppose the introduction of abortion training on moral, not political grounds. German physicians “politicized” euthanasia and ultimately killed 200,000 mentally ill and disabled persons from 1939–1945.
Extract Since visiting Auschwitz, I have grappled with the question of how I would have behaved as a doctor in Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. I hope I would have had the moral courage to refuse to participate in the various perversions of medicine that these regimes demanded — for example, respectively, eugenic “research” and psychiatric “treatment” of dissidents. . . . My chances of behaving honourably would have been greatest if I had felt part of an independent medical profession with allegiance to something higher and more enduring than the regime of the day. They would have been least if Savulescu’s opinions had prevailed . . .After 30 years of reading the BMJ, Sava- lescu’s article was the first one to make me feel physically sick.
Extract The Nazi doctors defended themselves primarily by arguing that they were engaged in necessary wartime medical research and were following the orders of their superiors. These defenses were rejected because they are at odds with the Nuremberg Principles, articulated a year earlier, at the conclusion of the multinational war crimes trial in 1946, that there are crimes against humanity (such as torture), that individuals can be held to be criminally responsible for committing them, and that obeying orders is no defense.
Extract Inspired by Nazi ideology and implemented by its apostles, eugenics and euthanasia in the late 1930s and early 1940s served no social necessity and had no scientific justification. Like a poison, they ultimately contaminated all intellectual activity in Germany. But the doctors were the precursors. How can we explain their betrayal? What made them forget or eclipse the Hippocratic Oath? What gagged their conscience? What happened to their humanity?
Abstract Over and above fairness, the concept of justice presupposes that in any community no one member’s wellbeing or life plan is inexorably dependent on the consumption or exploitation of other members. Renunciation of such use of others constitutes moral sociability, without which moral considerability is useless and possibly meaningless. To know if a creature is morally sociable, we must know it in its community; we must know its ecological profile, its species. Justice can be blind to species no more than to circumstance. Speciesism, the recognition of rights on the basis of group membership rather than solely on the basis of moral considerations at the level of the individual creature, embodies this assertion but is often described as a variant of Nazi racism. I consider this description and find it unwarranted, most obviously because Nazi racism extolled the stronger and the abuser and condemned the weaker and the abused, be they species or individuals, humans or animals. To the contrary, I present an argument for speciesism as a precondition to justice.