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Cruelty of Medicine in Nazi Germany

Updated August 30, 2021
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Cruelty of Medicine in Nazi Germany essay

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Medicine during the nazi era was full of ethical problems such as racial purity, cleanliness and orderliness; therefore, never was the sanctity of human life more violated, or the unique sanctity of medicine more profoundly degraded, than during the Holocaust. The nazi programs forced sterilization, racial purification, and euthanasia programs (Muller-Hill 1998). Other beliefs were promoted and accepted, notions like lives unworthy to live, races unfit to reproduce, and the elimination of the unfit (Muller-Hill 1998).

Not long after Hitler became chancellor, he incorporated into his master plan, what he wrongly described as an Aryan race, a superior race compared to all others because he was obsessed with racial purity and the idea of “pure blood” (Lafleur et al 2007). The first people scheduled for mass killing were the disabled because it was assumed that these people were isolated from society and it would be kept secret (Bergen 2016). The German doctors followed in Hitler’s footsteps by attempting to “heal Germany” (Chlelouche 2005). The doctors and nurses who are dedicated to caring for humans and their health took part in mistreating and killing patients who entrusted their lives with them (Muller-Hill 1998).

Some of these professionals, including biomedical scientists, participated in disturbing science experiments which were extremely unethical and disturbing (Chlelouche 2005). The nazi doctors and scientists had an unlimited amount of access to human bodies; therefore, they could use these bodies in medical experiments at their disposal (Muller-Hill 1998). The amount of data available from these experiments are useless and has zero significance in health care or in furthering future science because they were so horrific (Lafleur 2007). If the data was used today, it would send the wrong message by giving the idea that mistreating and dehumanizing people is acceptable. Eventually, the Nuremberg trials took place in Nuremberg, Germany between 1945 and 1949 where nazi war criminals were put on trial (Reginbogin 2006). Even though these horrible people were punished for their crimes, it will never be enough to justify how poorly the Jews were treated.

The Jewish health care system and medicine was cherished, and it was an honor for those who studied and practiced life preservation and healing (Grodin 2017). Doctors, medicine and healthcare reached a type of extraordinary sacredness within the Jewish society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries before World War II (Grodin 2017). There were Jewish medical societies built to fight the spread of infectious disease, encourage personal hygiene, and spread the awareness of important medical knowledge to the Jewish people (Grodin 2017). Hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, and other branches were created within the Jewish communities by the time World War II began and eventually all shut down by nazi occupation (Shipman 2015). All non-Aryan doctors were forced to quit practicing and sent to ghettos, labor camps and death camps right along with most of the Jewish population and those who were considered unwanted people in Germany and Eastern Europe (Grodin 2017).

By 1933, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany which was a time of horrible violence, medical disturbance and discrimination (Shipman 2015). Hitler’s goal was to improve the human population of Germany with the attempt to control breeding to produce desirable traits and characteristics (Shipman 2015). As early as 1920 the German psychiatrist Alfred Hoche and law professor, Karl Binding, described the mentally ill as “lives unworthy of life” and it was suggested that something needed to happen to the people who were “mental defectives” (Grodin 2017). Hocke and Binding believed Germany was weighed down by “living burdens” and it was no surprise that Hitler’s mass murder program began with the disabled and mentally handicapped (Bergen 2016).

Hitler, including many other people, believed Germany needed to get rid of Jews and others deemed unwanted (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). Ernst Rudin, the founder of psychiatric genetics and the founder of the German racial hygiene movement, promoted the eugenic ideas and policies in Germany (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). Germany implemented a nazi eugenic sterilization law and it was directed to people with genetic defects (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). This terrible description of the mentally ill population by psychiatric medical doctors began to spread across the German medical culture which eventually led to German doctors becoming members of the nazi party (Grodin 2017).

Physicians wanted racial purity and the seductive power of Nazism was its promise to cleanse society of its destructive elements (Shipman 2015). German racial hygienists and other eugenicists believed that the human population could be eradicated of those who were undesirable (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). These people argued that the population could be bred out of alcoholism, criminality, and those considered to have a “genetic disease” (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). In the late 1930s the nazi regime decided to implement a secret plan to kill mental patients, other “defectives” and “useless people” (Joseph and Wetzel 2013). German doctors managed an extensive program of euthanasia code-named Aktion T-4 (Shipman 2015). Over 70,273 mentally ill and physically handicapped German citizens were murdered because they were considered a threat to the health and purity of the German master race (Grodin 2017). People were murdered in gas chambers, by lethal injections, starvation and other criminal methods led by doctors and research scientists (Bergen 2016). Killing became a solution to population management along with experimentation (Bergen 2016).

The experiments done on Jews and the unwanted were disturbing to say the least and horrible. Nazi medical experiments can be categorized into three broad topics: validating the nazi race theory through long-term impact research, trauma research with military applications, pharmaceutical and surgical research (Muller-Hill 1998). Nazi physicians would place concentration-camp inmates in high-altitude experiments by confining them in low-pressure chambers until their lungs would explode (Muller-Hill 1998). Prisoners were immersed in freezing water tanks for hours and their body temperatures would reach extremely low temperatures until death (Muller-Hill 1998).

This experiment was used for the benefit of German pilots incase they crashed into the North Sea in hopes to provide valid data on temperature and the human body. Flesh was stripped from one hundred Jewish prisoners in order to increase their skeleton collection (Muller-Hill 1998). Prisoners were injected with pathogens that caused smallpox, cholera, spotted fever, typhus, and malaria to compare effectiveness of vaccines (Muller-Hill 1998). Bones were broken on patients and injected with diseases, and prisoners would get operated on, dissected and limbs cut off without anesthesia (Muller-Hill 1998). Doctors and scientists acted of their own free will and not because the nazi government made them. (Nichols 2015).

The doctors of the Holocaust performed procedures to advance medicine while inflicting pain upon their victims who were Jews, different ethnic groups or disabled people despised by the nazis (Nichols 2015). These doctors betrayed and corrupted the definition of what a doctor really is and whose actions were nothing less than evil. The world of scientific research in the Third Reich was where ordinary people were treated like guinea pigs and suffered traumatizing lab experiments (Nichols 2015). Some of the worst experiments occurred in the labs of Dr. Josef Mengele (Lafleur 2007). Mengele treated twins with “special treatment” because they were subjects for his experiments and he needed them to say healthy and kept alive (Nichols 2015).

Eva Mozes-Kor, the president of Children of Auschwitz: Nazi Deadly Camp Lab Experiments Survivors stated, “I was a human guinea pig in the Birkenau laboratory of Dr. Josef Mengele.” Dr. Mengele conducted experiments with twins (Lafleur 2007). He would inject a pathogen in one twin and not the other and monitor them, if that twin died, they would kill the other twin to compare organs during an autopsy (Lafleur 2007).

Eva Mozes-Kor almost died after a series of germ injections, but survived with her sister, Miriam Mozes, for liberation. She provides this pointed description of atrocity, among others: a set of Gypsy twins was brought back from Mengele’s lab after they were sewn back to back. Mengele had attempted to create a Siamese twin by connecting blood vessels and organs. The twins screamed day and night until gangrene set in, and after three days, they died (Lafleur 2007).

It is a miracle that Eva and Miriam Mozes-Kor survived because only a few twins were alive when the camp was liberated (Lafleur 2007). Eva and Miriam did suffer serious health problems after liberation which were probably brought on by the unknown medical experiments and injections which they were exposed to by Josef Mengele (Nichols 2015). As for Dr. Josef Mengele, he got away with his crimes (Nichols 2015). He was never detained for his atrocious crimes and lived in hiding for thirty-five years (Reginbogin 2006). He fled to South America and then moved country to country because he was afraid of being caught (Reginbogin 2006). The “Angel of Death” suffered a massive heart attack while swimming in the ocean and he drowned in 1979 (Reginbogin 2006). Sadly, the most painful thought comes from the fact that only some of these doctors were sentenced and punished and some still lived a long life after these experiments, enjoying the gift of life, while their victims remain in the graves, never having a chance to fulfill theirs.

The Nuremberg Trials marked the first-ever prosecutions for genocide (Reginbogin 2006). Nuremberg’s location was chosen because it had symbolic value because the Third Reich held massive nazi party propaganda rallies from the 1920’s to 1930’s (Reginbogin 2006). There were judges from four countries: United States, Soviet Union, France and Great Britain (Reginbogin 2006). There were three categories of crimes: crimes against peace, war crimes and crimes against humanity which included transportation of civilians, enslavement or persecution against religious or racial backgrounds not accepted by the nazi party (Reginbogin 2006). Not all the defendants were found guilty (Reginbogin 2006). On December 9, 1946, the American military opened a court of law against twenty-three German doctors and administrators for their participation in crimes against humanity and war crimes (Reginbogin 2006). On August 20, 1947, sixteen doctors were found guilty and seven were sentenced to death; therefore, they were executed on June 2, 1948 (Reginbogin 2006).

The nazi experiments data may bring light to some questions doctors and scientists have; however, it is not ethical to use any Holocaust experiment data. The nazi experiments were poorly designed, could not be tested or duplicated, were conducted on weak and malnourished individuals and are useless to todays science. There are now genetic experiments in progress making it possible for parents to choose height, eye color, intelligence level and the athletic ability of a child. These experiments are occurring without the suffering or murdering of patients.

The data that was obtained from the nazi medical experiments cannot be separated from the horrific way they were received. The Jews and many others suffered during this catastrophic event. Family members of those experimented on may feel upset if they knew the data was being used. The data being used could also send the message that these experiments werekay to begin with and that no harm was done to the patients. There is too much controversy attached with the nazi research which would cause a huge

Works Cited

  1. Bergen, D. L. 2016. War and genocide: A concise history of the Holocaust. Rowman and Littlefield. Lanham.
  2. Chelouche, T. 2005. Some ethical dilemmas faced by Jewish doctors during the Holocaust. Medicine and Law 24: 703-716.
  3. Grodin, M.A. 2017. Jewish medical resistance in the Holocaust. Berghahn books. New York.
  4. Joseph, J. and Wetzel, N.A. 2013. Ernst Rudin: Hitler’s Racial Hygiene Mastermind. Journal of the History of Biology 46: 1-30.
  5. Lafleur, W.R., Bohme, G., and Shimazono, S. 2007. Dark Medicine: rationalizing unethical medical research. Indiana university press. Bloomington and Indianapolis.
  6. Muller-Hill, B. 1998. Murderous Science: Elimination by scientific selection of Jews, gypsies, and others in Germany, 1933-1945. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
  7. Nichols B.J. 2015. Victims and survivors of nazi human experiments: science and suffering in the Holocaust. University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Arnold 33 (3): 508-509.
  8. O’Mathuna, D.P. 2006. Human dignity in the nazi era: implications for contemporary bioethics. BioMed Central Medical Ethics 7:2.
  9. Reginbogin, H. R. 2006. The Nuremberg trials: international criminal law. K.G. Saur Verlag GmbH, Munchen. Germany.
  10. Shipman, A.R. 2015. The German experiment: health care without female or Jewish doctors. International Journal of Women’s Dermatology 1(2): 108-110.
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