The debate over the appropriateness of drawing parallels between contemporary bioethical dilemmas and the Nazi regime continues to bubble away. A leading US bioethicist, Arthur Caplan, recently argued in the journal Science that it was misleading and insulting to invoke Nazi analogies.
Not long afterwards, a leading Christian commentator, James Dobson, the founder of Denver's Focus on the Family, compared research on human embryos with Nazi experiments on death camp inmates during World War II. As a result, he was pilloried by the local branch of the Anti-Defamation League, stem cell research supporters and the Denver Post. “It strains credulity to connect death-camp doctors with modern day medical researchers seeking knowledge about some of the toughest diseases that afflict human beings,” thundered the Post. Dobson refused to apologise.
But what seems inappropriate for embryos seems more acceptable in another context. A prominent British doctor writing in The Lancet pilloried the Bush administration for involving doctors in torture and abuse of prisoners. Dr Michael Wilks, the head of the ethics committee of the British Medical Association and a strong supporter of voluntary euthanasia, says that history shows that doctors must resist the corruption of their ethical codes. “It might seem insensitive and disproportionate to cite the Nazi doctors in comparison, but it is necessary to do so,” he writes. “The involvement of German doctors in the 1930s and 1940s remains an indelible stain on medical ethics; active 'euthanasia' and experiments involving Jews, gypsies and the mentally ill were done on a massive scale without apparent question or guilt.”
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