July 6, 2022

WHAT’S IN A NAME? AN ETHICAL CONUNDRUM, THAT’S WHAT

Many diseases and syndromes are better known by the name of the doctor who first described them. Take Reiter’s syndrome, for example, a disorder that causes three seemingly unrelated symptoms: arthritis, redness of the eyes, and urinary tract signs. Nowadays, however, more and more doctors are calling it reactive arthritis. The reason for the shift in terminology is that Hans Reiter (1881- 1969) was tried at Nuremberg and found guilty of conducting typhoid experiments that killed hundred of prisoners in Nazi concentration camps.

This week, another tainted doctor was fingered in The Lancet, Friedrich Wegener (1907-1990), whose name persists in Wegener’s granulomatosis, a rare condition characterised by inflamed blood vessels. Although Wegener, unlike Reiter, was never put on trial, he apparently was involved in selecting Jews from the Lodz ghetto for extermination at Auschwitz. He may also have conducted post-mortems on them. Although the evidence is thin, he was definitely a Brownshirt and a convinced Nazi. The Lancet suggests that linking Wegener with the disease which bears his name “needs balanced discussion within the scientific community”.