There is an argument to be made that contemporary
bioethics grew out of the ashes of the Nazi regime. A number of Nazi doctors
who collaborated in the atrocities in concentration camps were executed. But
others, less well known, used Nazi inhumanity to advance their research agenda.
An article in a recent issue of the journal
Science highlights the use anatomists in Germany and Austria made of executed political
prisoners in teaching and research. (See article below). Dr Hermann Stieve, for
instance, was a famous professor at the University of Berlin and the Berlin
Charité Hospital. He took advantage of the executions to study the female
reproductive system, showing a barbaric indifference to the prisoners’
humanity. “What the
best and brightest did was see the imprisonment and beheading of human beings
as opportunities,” observes a scholar who has studied Stieve’s career.
There is always a great danger of misusing
analogies with the Nazis. In many ways their corruption and depravity were
unique. But human nature doesn’t change and doctors today still face
temptations to objectify patients, to dismiss patient consent, and to place
achievement above ethics. “Never forget” is advice bioethicists should take to
heart as well.
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