When Bad Nazi Doctors Prescribed Good Healthy RemediesRoundup: Talking About History
Tim Radford, in the Guardian (Oct. 14, 2004):
[What has medicine learned from the Nazis?] In the 1920s, German scientists correctly picked up on x-rays as a possible source of genetic damage. In the same decade they also launched a huge campaign against tobacco, condemning it as a "plague" and "lung masturbation", according to Robert N Proctor, the historian, in his book The Nazi War on Cancer. The catch is that these scientists were eugenicists and were worried about the corruption of German germplasm. Smoking, for instance, was "unGerman" and a vice propagated by Jews.
A decade later, Nazi scientists identified the dangers of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT before anyone else, and launched campaigns to discourage alcoholism. German scientists of the period made the link between asbestos and lung cancer and developed the first high-powered electron microscope. They also pro moted breast self-examination to detect tumours at an early stage. Nazi leaders backed all these campaigns. Hitler was a vegetarian. Heinrich Himmler lectured the Waffen-SS on the importance of vitamins, minerals, whole foods and fibre in their diet.
The question arises because the American Medical Association yesterday announced a series of lectures on Nazi medicine at medical schools around the US. The lectures have been organised in association with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum and the collaboration coincides with an American exhibition called Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.
Alan Wells, of the American Medical Association, says: "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?'"
Adolf Hitler spoke of Germany as a body and himself as the doctor who wanted to make the nation healthy by eliminating the diseased parts. This programme of national health began with sterilisation and ended, of course, with six million deaths in the concentration camps. These events left their mark on all medicine.
"We can never forget this history because it continues to affect medical ethics today," Wells says.
"For example, one reason doctors today are so concerned about racial and
ethnic health disparities is because 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."
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