German medicine and National Socialism in 1933

Hanauske-Abel, Hartmut M. “Not A Slippery Slope Or Sudden Subversion: German Medicine and National Socialism in 1933.” British Medical Journal, vol. 313, no. 7070, 1996, pp. 1453-63, doi:10.1136/bmj.313.7070.1453.

Abstract. The history of medicine this century is darkened by the downfall of the German medical profession, exposed during the doctors’ trial at Nuremberg in 1946. Relying largely on documents published during 1933 in German medical journals, this paper examines two widely accepted notions of those events, metaphorically termed “slippery slope” and “sudden subversion.”

The first connotes a gradual slide over infinitesimal steps until, suddenly, all footing is lost; the second conveys forced take over of the profession’s leadership and values. Both concepts imply that the medical profession itself became the victim of circumstances.

The slippery slope concept is a prominent figure of argument in the current debate on bioethics. The evidence presented here, however, strongly suggests that the German medical community set its own course in 1933. In some respects this course even outpaced the new government, which had to rein in the profession’s eager pursuit of enforced eugenic sterilisations.

In 1933 the convergence of political, scientific, and economic forces dramatically changed the relationship between the medical community and the government. That same convergence is occurring again and must be approached with great caution if medicine is to remain focused on the preservation of physical and medical integrity.

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