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Racial Hygiene

PDF Last September I attended a lecture on the life of Dr. Karl Brandt, one of the leading Nazi doctors who was hanged following the Nuremberg Doctor's trial. A comment made in the lecture has increased my interest in learning about what went on in the medical field in Nazi Germany. That comment was that a conclusion drawn from the Doctor's Trial was that never again should we let government control medicine. I am currently searching for an original source which either supports or refutes that statement (was this in fact one of the conclusions?) That search led me to this book.

This book is as disturbing as it is important.

Here are several key take-away points from the book.

1. The eugenics movement began before Hitler took power and was a world-wide movement.
2. The individuals involved in the "euthanasia" (read: "murder:) of "lives not worth living" were never ordered to kill their patients. They were simply empowered to do so.
3. The "euthanasia" program of institutionalized mentally ill and severely handicapped individuals was justified on economic grounds and was clearly the gateway to the mass murdering of the Holocaust.
4. The beginning of the program was relatively innocuous, and included the simple registration of the severely mentally ill and deformed or malformed infants.
5. The murders were justified as acts of mercy and kindness as well as necessary for the good of the nation.

The author argues (and strongly defends) that medicine was not just co-opted and perverted by the political regime of the Nazis, but that it was a mutually reinforcing process.

"In fact, the ideological structure we associate with National Socialism was deeply embedded in the philosophy and institutional structure of German biomedical science long before the beginning of the euthanasia program in 1939—and to a certain extent before 1933."

The author also explores the wider theme of the interconnection between science and politics, how they interact to influence each other. Anti-Semitism was "medicalized" and given greater credence by the association with "science." This raises concern broader than today's push for the "rationalization" of the practice of medicine via government sponsored "comparative effectiveness research" and "best practices." It also brings into question the forces driving environmental and climate science. How much have political and ideological beliefs shaped the results of research in those areas? At the time, German doctors and scientists were unaware of the distorting effects politics and racism had in their "scientific" conclusions. What similar distortions are present in present-day science to which we are equally blind?

This is an area of history it is essential for us to understand, especially as the connections between government,medicine and science continue to grow.

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