Purge Nazi past, doctor tells medical community

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Medical science must purge itself of its Nazi past, suggests a Canadian professor who is advocating an end to medical terms named after doctors linked to wartime atrocities, and formal investigations of hospitals that may still hold specimens from Hitler-era human experiments.

The call from Dalhousie's Dr. Michael Cohen comes as growing attention is paid to the legacy of medical research conducted in Germany and Austria on thousands of Third Reich victims. Germany's main anatomy association is even planning a forum on Nazi-era science this September.

"German scientists for a long time have not really looked into their own pasts," said Dr. Andreas Winkelmann of Berlin's Charite university hospital.

"People often didn't want to look back," said Dr. Winkelmann, who has studied his own institution's Nazi history. "It took the grandchildren to look into these things."

As the sensitive issue increasingly comes to the fore, however, heated disputes are arising about the exact nature of some scientists' "medical crimes," and what should be done about them.

Dr. Bill Seidelman, another Canadian academic who has long studied the issue, says medical terms, even when linked to Nazi doctors, should be upheld as a reminder of that dark past -- and the fact that esteemed researchers became embroiled in Hitler's system....

Many scientists...became ardent followers of Hitler, with half of all doctors joining the Nazi party by 1942, and some helping develop the concepts of racial purity and eugenics that underpinned Naziism, noted Dr. Cohen....

...[V]irtually every university anatomy department in Germany and Austria was...the recipient of bodies of people executed in Nazi prisons, often political offenders, Polish slave labourers or other innocents, Dr. Seidelman said. Though the origins and use of the human remains was highly immoral, some of the research was for legitimate purposes and the scientists made discoveries that still bear their names today, terms known as eponyms.

They include Hugo Spatz, who did research on children killed in the Nazis' "euthanasia" project, and is a discoverer of the Spatz-Stiefler reaction, an anatomical diagnosis of paralysis. Hans Eppinger, a prominent internal medicine specialist in Vienna and infamous for forcing Gypsy prisoners to drink sea water in cruel experiments, is a namesake of Cauchois-Eppinger-Frugoni syndrome, a vein inflammation that causes enlarged spleens.

Some more familiar names fall into a greyer zone. There is conflicting evidence, for instance, about the Nazi sympathies of Hans Asperger, after whom Asperger syndrome was coined, and Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt, the German neurologist who first described Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease, according to a 2007 paper in the journal European Neurology....

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