April 19, 2009

Medicine and Medical Ethics in Nazi Germany: Origins, Practice, Legacies

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One of the most disturbing aspects of the Nazi era and the Holocaust was the participation of German physicians in human experiments and in mass murder. According to the editors of this volume, German physicians fully understood what the Nazi racial and eugenic research entailed, with many opting to pursue the career opportunities it afforded. “The first three decades of the twentieth century witnessed the growth of the eugenics movement in Europe, North America, and elsewhere,” they say. “Unfortunately, the Nazi’s translated eugenic principles into a program for the racial purification and moral improvement of the German nation.”

Confronting these issues from a variety of disciplinary and methodological perspectives, MEDICINE AND MEDICAL ETHICS IN NAZI GERMANY addresses the critical issues raised by the murderous experiments, the motivation of the German medical establishment and its complicity in Nazi crimes, and the impact and legacy of the eugenics movement as practiced in the Third Reich.

Authored by some of the most important authorities in the world today, the book sheds new light on the subject, drawing an immediate relevance to current controversies over the nature and course of research in human genetics and biotechnology. The editors warn that society may be in danger of witnessing the evolution of a new eugenics that could have similar or even more murderous consequences than effected by eugenic thinking and its co-optation of science and medicine in the Third Reich. “We have the advantage today of learning from the experience of Germany and from the experiences of the United States,” they say. “In these and other instances, we can observe the extent to which science and medicine have been put to cruel and even murderous uses in modern, technologically advanced societies when an immoral political culture rather easily co-opts its citizens, especially the best educated and most highly skilled, for these purposes.”

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