Sixty-eight years after the verdict concluding the Nuremberg Doctors Trial–a verdict that includes the Nuremberg Code–the German Medical Association (Bundesarztekammer) has finally acknowledged the culpability of Germany’s medical community during the Nazi regime.
On May 23, 2012, the German Medical Association issued a Declaration and apology at Nuremberg, at last taking responsibility for the crimes and atrocities committed by German doctors who, the Declaration acknowledges, were “guilty of scores of human rights violations.”
“These crimes were not the actions of individual doctors but involved leading members of the medical community…and should be taken as a warning for the future…
Outstanding representatives of renowned academic medical and research institutions were involved” in organizing and carrying out the mass extermination of millions, and participating in barbaric medical experiments. Doctors were not forced to participate in the atrocities, the statement admitted, but were often enthusiastic supporters and even Nazi leaders…”
Indeed, the criminal actions by German physicians predated the expulsion of Jews to concentration camps and the pseudo-scientific experiments on concentration camp inmates. German doctors were key to the forced sterilization and euthanasia of disabled children, the mentally ill and others deemed “unworthy of life.”
The Declaration, unanimously adopted by the delegates of the Physician’s Congress, states that contrary to popular belief doctors were not forced by political authorities to kill and experiment on prisoners but rather engaged in the Holocaust as leaders and enthusiastic Nazi supporters.
The apology is to the victims both living and dead: “Doctors, remember the living and deceased victims and their descendants, and ask them for forgiveness.”
In an editorial on MSNBC, bioethicist Art Caplan stated : “In the history of apologies for crimes and abuses carried out in the name of medicine this is the most important ever made. It does nothing to soften the horror of the Holocaust but it both ascribes responsibility where it belongs and ends any further efforts to deny or obfuscate what actually happened.”
Inhumane, unethical medical experimentation carried out on concentration camp inmates during the Third Reich may be divided into three categories.
1. Experiments aimed at facilitating the survival of military personnel. These included high-altitude experiments, using a low-pressure chamber, to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety; freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia; and used prisoners to test various methods of making seawater potable.
2. Experiments aimed at developing and testing pharmaceuticals and treatment methods for injuries and illnesses which German military and occupation personnel encountered in the field. At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald, and Neuengamme, doctors tested vaccines and sera for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis. The Ravensbrueck camp was the site of bone-grafting experiments and experiments to test the efficacy of newly developed sulfa (sulfanilamide) drugs. At Natzweiler and Sachsenhausen, prisoners were subjected to phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.
3. Experiments that sought to advance the racial and ideological tenets of the Nazi worldview. The most infamous were the experiments of Josef Mengele at Auschwitz, who conducted medical experiments on twins. But equally hideous experuments were conducted by Werner Fischer at Sachsenhausen who infected inmates with contagious diseases, in order to determine how different “races” withstood them. Other gruesome experiments aimed at furthering Nazi racial goals were a series of sterilization experiments at Auschwitz and Ravensbrueck.
We believe that the Obama Administration is treading on a very dangerous slippery slope when it proposes to conduct an anthrax vaccine safety trial in children who would derive no direct benefit, but would be exposed to seerious risks of harm. See: Anthrax Vaccine Trial Ethics? Science?
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