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Children of Hippocrates: Doctors in Nazi Germany

Jack S. Boozer
The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Vol. 450, Reflections on the Holocaust: Historical, Philosophical, and Educational Dimensions (Jul., 1980), pp. 83-97
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1042560
Page Count: 15
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Children of Hippocrates: Doctors in Nazi Germany
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Abstract

One of the more unexplored yet frightening aspects of the Nazi years in Germany, 1933-45, is the conduct of the doctors during those years. Many of them abandoned the traditional guiding norms for the practice of medicine, archaically expressed in the Hippocratic oath, and proposed, carried out, and cooperated with medical experiments without the consent of subjects and with little promise of any contribution to medical science. Many also participated in research and other medical activities, such as euthanasia and mass sterilization, whose purposes had nothing to do with a contribution to medical knowledge that would eventually save or improve life, but were simply for the manipulation and killing of persons. These activities quickly fell under the control of Nazi ideology, with no protest on the basis of the norms of medical practice by societies of medical doctors and psychiatrists, and with little, albeit costly, protest by individuals. A brief survey of what the Medical case and the Auschwitz trial revealed about the conduct of the doctors raises the question of the status and effectiveness of a professional standard like the Hippocratic oath against the power of the state. This, in turn, raises the question about the basis of the rights of man outside of what is enacted and secured by a nation-state. In facing this question, an appeal is made for the nurture of care about human rights, among professional groups with transnational identities as well as among individuals and voluntary nonprofessional associations among the general citizenry. Finally, a claim is made for specific kinds of social-political responsibilities of doctors in modern society.

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