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ADVANCE Perspective: Nurses

How did healers become killers?

Published August 25, 2010 3:35 PM by Robin Hocevar

In my 3 years with ADVANCE, I've been stunned time and again at how frequently healthcare intersects with current events.

Through the course of acquainting myself with medical issues in the Midwest, I've participated in an eerily realistic mass casualty drill simulating a 9/11 style attack in Chicago and found myself in the company of the Central Park jogger and celebrities like Dennis Quaid and Patty Duke, all of whom had messages for America's nurses.

But I've never been so disturbed by a work event as I was by last week's medical ethics program at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center

Chicago doctors and nurses in the audience were stunned into silence when historian Patrician Huberer of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum described how doctors and nurses in pre-World War II Germany embraced radical public health policies that promoted *** propaganda.

In their effort to create the master race, the German medical community performed 400,000 sterilizations and euthanized up to 7,000 German children. People with psychological disorders such as bi-polar syndrome, deafness, blindness, "feeblemindedness", schizophrenia and alcoholism were reported by German doctors and midwives to heredity health courts. These people then faced mandatory vasectomies or tubal ligations. Eventually, this same population was gassed in euthanasia centers until 1941.

It's easy to write off these medical professionals as ignorant but the fact is the German medical community was considered forward-thinking. Their research was the earliest to link smoking to cancer and embrace preventive medicine.

Equally chilling was the reaction of the worldwide medical community. When Jewish doctors were stripped of their right to practice in Germany, there was no protest from the international community, including U.S. doctors.

One can't help drawing parallels between this pre-Nazi era and today. Dismal economic conditions paved the way for the Nazi Party. Today's newscasters link the faltering worldwide economy to that of the Great Depression almost every day.

Certainly, the Nuremberg trials and laws formed after the Tuskegee incident did a good job of creating written policy to preserve human rights. Yet, weren't there clinicians who admitted to waterboarding practices at Guantanamo?

What do you think?

As a profession, could medical ethics ever lapse again like this horrible chapter in history?

posted by Robin Hocevar


I don't think the medical community will lapse in that ghastly way, but clearly humankind in general still has a lot of work to do.

Valerie Newitt August 25, 2010 4:36 PM

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