Ghost of Hitler Still Haunts Western Medicine
“During the 1930s, the German medical establishment was admired as a world leader in innovative public health and medical research. 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?’” The question was posed by Dr. Alan Wells, medical ethics expert with the AMA, at a conference in Washington D.C. last week sponsored in conjunction with the Holocaust Museum, reports EurekAlert. He continued:
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. 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.
He recounts that German doctors were considered leaders in medical innovation in the years leading up to the Holocaust. Yet their efforts were aimed by the Reich at improving the purity of the Aryan race. This meant the unfit or non-Aryan were viewed as threats to health:
Adolf Hitler spoke of Germany as a body with himself as the doctor. 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.
According to Dr. Patricia Heberer of the Holocaust Museum, the evil actions grew out of eugenics, a “distortion” of Charles Darwin’s theories of survival of the fittest. The abuses in Nazi Germany continue to influence medical practice today, the article states. For instance, Dr. Wells says, “our codes of ethics demand that we treat every person equally, without regard to race or ethnic background. This ethical obligation is a direct outgrowth of the horrors of Nazi medicine.” He cautions that even though these horrors seem so long ago, we can never forget this history. See also the 07/30/2001 and 04/22/2004 headlines.
A grave cause for alarm is that people are forgetting. First of all, let’s clear up the distortion that eugenics was a distortion of Darwin’s theories. The subtitle of Charlie’s book was the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life. What does “favoured races” mean when speaking of the human race? In later editions of his book, Darwin moved from the term “natural selection” to Herbert Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest.” The Victorian British were caught up in the myth of progress, and many, including Darwin and his friends, held racist beliefs, some of them radical. The success of their empire surely proved they were the fittest, did it not? The “father of eugenics” was Darwin’s own cousin, Francis Galton. Ernst Haeckel took the core beliefs of survival of the fittest and eugenics to Germany, where they were taking hold before Hitler came to power. Hitler merely lifted constraints on trends that were already established, the article says:
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.
Lest anyone think the evil was constrained to the German borders, eugenics and anti-Semitism was widespread throughout Europe and America at the time; America itself had a pre-Hitlerian forced sterilization program (see 10/21/2001 headline). There is a direct line philosophically from the ideas of Darwin to the actions of Nazi Germany, as historian Richard Weikart has documented.
Nazi Germany provides a classic case study that bad ideas can have horrific consequences, and that “good” doctors and scientists can be hoodwinked into letting their talents be co-opted for evil. How could we forget? Yet that is exactly what Nature suggested last month (see 09/27/2004 headline), that we need to get over our ethical hangups stemming from Nazi abuses, and move forward with today’s medical technologies. Notice how pre-Hitler eugenics started with killing the disabled. Sound familiar? (Clue: Terry Schiavo.) Hitlerian medicine also justified killing of those that it defined as not really human (clue: human embryos). Peter Singer has advocated killing senior citizens and children based on Darwinian principles. Now we are on the verge of synthetic biology, whose horrors can only be imagined (see 10/11/2004 headline). Hitler may be gone, but the core beliefs of Darwinism still reign supreme in the halls of academia. Another holocaust may await a new madman rising to power and promising Big Science all it wants, as he steers it to his agenda.
Welcome to 2004. On one side we have radical Muslims wanting to disconnect our heads and nuke our cities. On the other we have Big Science ready to endorse the New Eugenics. If we don’t want evil to triumph, doing nothing is not an option. As J. Gresham Machen warned in the pre-Nazi, pro-eugenics days of 1913, “What is today matter of academic speculation begins tomorrow to move armies and pull down empires. In that second stage, it has gone too far to be combatted; the time to stop it was when it was still a matter of impassionate debate.” Will the archival footage of World War II help us learn from history this time?