July 13, 2021 | Jerry Bergman

Echoes of Nazism Haunt New Medical Ethics Guidelines

Moving Toward Nazism?
Are Stem Cell Research Limits Going Too Far?

 

by Jerry Bergman, PhD

Introduction

The philosophical and scientific creep towards Nazism may have now begun. First, a review of what happened in Nazi Germany. The story begins in the early 1900s in efforts to breed humans with what evolution claims are our nearest relatives, the apes. Eminent Russian biologist Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov was, as far as known, the first person to attempt to create a human–chimp hybrid by artificial insemination (see 22 April 2019).[1] He presented his idea in 1910 at the World Congress of Zoologists in Graz in southeastern Austria. In the 1920s, Ivanov carried out a series of experiments in Africa, culminating in inseminating three female chimpanzees with human sperm. He failed to achieve a single pregnancy. Ivanov used the sperm of Negroes on the belief, based on evolution, that they were closer to apes than Whites, thus more likely to result in a pregnancy.[2]

In November of 1926, Ivanov attempted to inseminate several African women with chimpanzee sperm in a Congo hospital. The German government refused permission due to concerns about the morality of the research. Ivanov did the experiment anyway, not informing the women nor the German government of what he was doing. None of the women became pregnant. It would be only a few years later that the government, instead of protecting non-Aryan races in the Congo, would be killing them in German concentration camps.

The Nazi Beginning Started with a Badly Deformed Baby

The Nazi era began with the birth of a severely deformed German baby. The hospital authorities contacted Hitler for permission to euthanize the child. He gave his permission. The slippery slope had begun. It resulted in opening the door to the almost total elimination of the German hospital population of retarded and deformed children.[3]

The next step was on August 18, 1939. The Reich Ministry of the Interior circulated a decree requiring all physicians, nurses, and midwives to report newborn infants and children under the age of three who showed signs of severe mental or physical disability. At first, medical professionals and clinic administrators included only infants and toddlers in the euthanasia program. The scope soon widened to include youths up to age 17 years. At least 10,000 physically and mentally disabled German children perished during the war years as a result of the child “euthanasia” program. (Euthanasia means “good death”.)

The next step, beginning in October 1939, was public health authorities beginning to encourage parents of children with disabilities to admit their children to one of the specially designated pediatric clinics throughout Germany and Austria. In reality, the clinics were child killing wards. There, specially recruited medical staff murdered their young charges by lethal overdoses of medication or by starvation. As historian professor Windy Lower documented, the first Nazi mass murderer

was not a concentration camp guard but a nurse. Of all the female professionals, she was the deadliest. Centrally planned mass killing operations began neither in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau nor in the mass shooting sites of Ukraine; they began, instead, in the hospitals of the Reich. The first methods were the sleeping pill, the hypodermic needle, and starvation. The first victims were children….  Nurses gave thousands of deformed babies and disabled adolescents overdoses of barbiturates, lethal injections of morphine, and denied them food and water.[4]

These programs were all carried out “in the name of progress and the health of the nation.”[5] In the late nineteenth century, the modern science of genetics was spawned by a 1910 book authored by an American eugenics leader, Harvard-educated Charles Davenport—Eugenics: The Science of Human Improvement by Better Breeding. Professor Viktor E. Frankl, a former Jewish camp inmate himself,  wrote these famous lines about the Holocaust, noting that

[The] Holocaust did not take place long ago and far away. Rather, it occurred in the heart of rationalist, post-Enlightenment, liberal Europe … the epicenters of eugenics were places of cosmopolitan, avant-garde culture like Berlin and Vienna. Nazis were aided by doctors, lawyers, scientists, judges, and academics. More than half of the participants at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, who planned the ‘final solution to the Jewish question,’ the murder of all Europe’s Jews, carried the title ‘doctor’. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, ­as the Nazis liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil’. The gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry … in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists.[6]

Embryo Research

We are now faced with a similar issue: human embryo research. The barriers are falling.

For 40 years, research into early human development has been guided by the principle that after 14 days, an embryo should not be used for research and must be destroyed. This rule has been part of the law of more than 12 countries. But new guidelines released by the International Society for Stem Cell Research have removed this rule. This makes it possible to conduct research on human embryos that are at more advanced stages of development.[7]

Although countries take a variety of approaches to the time when human embryo research can be done, it’s notable that some nations, including Italy and Germany, do not allow embryo research at any stage. This is precisely because of Germany’s experience starting down the slippery slope in the 1930s.

Why the 14-Day Limit?

The 14-day rule was not arbitrarily decided. After fertilization, most embryos implant in the uterus after the 14th day. That is also the point when the first signs of an embryo’s developing nervous system appear.[8] Cells also begin differentiating at this point into their irreversible fates. We know this because an embryo cannot split into twins after 14 days and produce two normal children. Later splits may produce conjoined twins; though connected to each other, they remain distinct individuals. Some people reason that due to these events, it is at this stage that a moral being comes into existence, and it would not be ethical to do research on embryos after the 14-day limit. The pro-life camp believes life starts at fertilization, but at least the scientific community had a reasoned standard. That has now all changed leading to the real possibility that unforeseen abuses may occur.

The 14-day rule was the international standard since 1990, often enforced only by a “gentleman’s agreement.” What appear to be good reasons (just as was true in Nazi Germany) were provided to do research on embryos until 14 days after fertilization. In Nazi Germany, scientists wanted to help the fatherland by protecting the purity of the human race. Today’s scientists want to “understand” abnormalities so as to help treat them. The slippery slope always starts with good intentions.

Over the decades human embryo research has allowed us to understand normal and abnormal human development, as well as early genetic diseases and disorders. Studying human embryos, as the earliest forms of human life, can give us insight into why miscarriages occur, and how our complex body systems develop. Human embryos are also important for stem cell research, where researchers try and create cell-based therapies to treat human diseases.[9]

The new guidelines do not require adherence to a 14-day limit. This raises a number of new questions:

  • Is research on human embryos the only way to gain the desired insight?
  • Will allowing embryo research beyond the 14 days allow significantly more progress in our knowledge of normal and abnormal human development?
  • Will it give insight into early genetic diseases and disorders?
  • How far beyond 14 days is required to achieve progress in normal and abnormal human development, and genetic diseases and disorders?
  • Will 28, 34, or 40 days beyond the current 14-day limit be required?
  • Could the scientific community retain the 14-day limit and consider exceptions on a case-by-case basis?

With the 14-day limit abolished, why not allow experimentation during the entire three months of the embryo stage of development? Might it eventually be considered appropriate to push for the rights to do research during the fetal state? The longer a human embryo is allowed to develop, the more recognizably human it becomes. At what point would scientists regard the research unethical, and at what point does the moral cost outweigh the benefits of research? Nagging in the background is the perennial question of whether two wrongs make a right. Doing something morally wrong with good intentions tends to desensitize a person’s conscience.

Countries can now revise their laws, policies, and guidelines to reflect this change. But first, public debate is crucial. So says Sheetal Soni, researcher, lecturer, and attorney associated with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN, South Africa). He feels the public must be involved to help determine the limits and what sort of research can be allowed, because there will be perverse incentives to extend the limit. Countries that allow very liberal limits may result in researchers traveling to those countries to do research. This eventuality may embolden countries to formulate very liberal policies—much longer than 14 days—in order to attract researchers. A copycat effect may encourage other countries to also extend their limits.

The Source of Embryos

Extra embryos are normally created during in vitro fertilization procedures that some infertile couples undergo. They may opt to donate any extra embryos for research. These are cultured in a petri dish in the lab. In the past, scientists restricted their studies until the embryos reached 14 days post-fertilization. Now they may be studied after this limit. In the past, there were practical reasons for the 14-day limit because, at the time it was established years ago, it was not then possible to keep human embryos alive in the lab for that long. New techniques now make it possible to keep them alive indefinitely.

Evolution Ethics: Loss of a Static Moral Guideline

Our culture of post-truth subjectivity has given up on a static moral standard. Evolutionary ethics has replaced it. ‘Evolution ethics’ can be summarized this way: “As long as it does not hurt someone else, it’s OK. Whatever makes you feel good is OK.” The roots of this pragmatic subjectivity go back 140 years to the ‘God is dead’ movement in Germany.

In the 1880s, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about his mission in life. He thought of himself as on a rampage to destroy the last vestiges of Christianity by means of a brave new philosophy heralding a brave new world. Young Nietzcheans identified Nietzsche with Übermensch, the superior man. Nietzsche’s highly quotable motto is Nichts ist wahr: Alles ist erlaubt (“Nothing is true [such as Christianity]: all is permitted”). How much influence this worldview has in scientific circles today is unknown, but it clearly inspires some investigators.

Many examples could be cited of violations of the rights of the unborn in our modern society. Abortion is surely the most visible one. Scientists latched onto that source of living tissue for experimentation, as was revealed in the CFP videos. Despite the clear unethical and illegal actions of abortionists and scientists revealed in those undercover interviews, research on aborted baby body parts goes on even now. It is not encouraging to think that scientists will have the ethical qualifications to restrict their research on early-stage human embryos.

Summary

Christianity has always stood as a backstop against abuses of human rights. Now that Christianity has lost much of its influence in the West, one can expect more violations of long-established ethical norms. The dominance of evolutionary thought will no doubt continue to have a major role in the deterioration of traditional moral norms. Embryo research is one of many areas where Darwinism-influenced abuses will likely proliferate.

References

[1] Rossiianov, Kirill. 2002. “Beyond Species: Ii’ya Ivanov and His Experiments on Cross-Breeding Humans with Anthropoid Apes.” Science in Context 15(2):277-316.

[2] Rooy, Piet de. 1995. “In Search of Perfection: The Creation of a Missing Link.” Chapter 15 (pp. 195-207), in Ape, Man, Apeman: Changing Views Since 1600. Edited  by Raymond Corbey and Bert Theunisen, 1995. Leiden, Netherlands: Leiden University (Department of Prehistory), p. 195.

[3] Darlow, David (Executive Producer). 2001. “Science and the Swastika.” Documentary series, 4 episodes.

[4] Lower, Wendy. 2013. Hitler’s Furies: German Women in the Nazi Killing Fields. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, pp. 120.

[5] Lower, 2013, p. 120.

[6] Frankl, Viktor E. 1986. The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy. New York, NY: Vintage Books, p. xxxii.

[7] Soni, Sheetal. 2021. Limits for human embryo research have been changed: This calls for public debate. The Conversation, June 30. https://theconversation.com/limits-for-human-embryo-research-have-been-changed-this-calls-for-public-debate-162305.

[8] Soni, 2021.

[9] Soni, 2021.


Dr. Jerry Bergman has taught biology, genetics, chemistry, biochemistry, anthropology, geology, and microbiology for over 40 years at several colleges and universities including Bowling Green State University, Medical College of Ohio where he was a research associate in experimental pathology, and The University of Toledo. He is a graduate of the Medical College of Ohio, Wayne State University in Detroit, the University of Toledo, and Bowling Green State University. He has over 1,300 publications in 12 languages and 40 books and monographs. His books and textbooks that include chapters that he authored are in over 1,500 college libraries in 27 countries. So far over 80,000 copies of the 40 books and monographs that he has authored or co-authored are in print. For more articles by Dr Bergman, see his Author Profile.

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