Why Teach “Medicine after the Holocaust”?

From 1933 to 1945, German physicians, bioscientists, and nurses – the best in the world at the time – willingly committed the most egregious violations of medical and professional ethics ever. Guided by eugenic theories of race, they sterilized 400,000 citizens against their will, “euthanized” 200,000 disabled German children and adults, and created the gas chambers and crematoria that were used for the mass murder of six million Jews, Poles, and Gypsies in the “final solution”. Without the enthusiastic support of physicians, scientists, and nurses, the Holocaust might never have happened.

Although German violations of the most basic of medical ethics are well-documented, they are virtually unknown by today's students in the health sciences. Likewise, the critical role that American eugenics played in the development of the German "racial hygiene" policies is frequently unrecognized. American eugenicists, physicians, philanthropists, politicians, and public health officials provided indispensable legislative models, financial aid, and moral support for Germany's "racial hygiene" programs in the 1920s and 1930s.

The Hippocratic Oath, the bedrock of medical ethics, was blatantly violated by the physicians of Nazi Germany when they chose to treat the health of the nation rather than the health of the individual and substituted their government's eugenic public health policy for the best interests of their patients.

Although current healthcare in the USA is regarded as the best in the world, there are elements that should cause us to reflect upon the similarities to German medicine in the 1930s. There is a resurgence of interest in eugenics and biological determinism following the success of the Human Genome Project. Controversy persists regarding abortion, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, and euthanasia.

The mission of the Center for Medicine after the Holocaust [CMATH] is to challenge doctors, nurses, and bioscientists to personally confront the medical ethics of the Holocaust and apply that knowledge to contemporary practice and research. CMATH is concerned that healthcare personnel, like all human beings, have the capacity to believe they are doing good while they are actually doing harm. By studying the past, we hope to provide knowledge for today that will prevent the repetition of previous errors and lead to wisdom in future doctors, nurses, bioscientists, and public health officials so that they will provide better healthcare for their patients and fellow citizens.

If the best physicians, nurses, and scientists of the early twentieth century could sacrifice their patients for utopian goals, can we be certain that we will not do the same?

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MISSION STATEMENT

The mission of the Center for Medicine after the Holocaust is to challenge doctors, nurses, and bioscientists to personally confront the medical ethics of the Holocaust and to apply that knowledge to contemporary practice and research.

Content Modules

CMATH Champions are using these resources to develop lectures, curricula, extracurricular activities, and community programs that are appropriate for their medical centers.

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Lecture Series

View video clips from speakers covering topics such as euthanasia and the Human Genome Project, pre-implantation genetic diagnosis and how the doctor-patient relationship has changed over the years since the Holocaust.

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