Human Life and Health Care Ethics - Vol. 2

Human Life and Health Care Ethics - Vol. 2

Human Life and Health Care Ethics - Vol. 2

Human Life and Health Care Ethics - Vol. 2

Excerpt

Health care professionals often hold the keys to prolonging life or hastening death. The exercise of their medical discretion is often limited by the law which imposes society's values upon the health care professions. What is legal, however, is not always what is ethical. The health care professions, therefore, have imposed limitations on their own actions and have guided themselves by an internal set of values. These ethical considerations transcend the law and are sometimes at odds with it.

In 1941, the German euthanasia and sterilization programs were well under way in Europe. Directed primarily against the Jews, gypsies, and eastern Europeans, they were preceded by the liquidation of the infirm, insane, and politically unpopular among the German people.

This large-scale program of infanticide and euthanasia was actively assisted by the medical professions. Doctors were responsible from the outset for victim selection and legitimation documents, for the execution process, for the torturous and lethal "experiments," for the castration, sterilization, and breeding programs, and for the development of new and more efficient death procedures. As Leo Alexander, chief American psychiatrist at the Nuremberg Trials, summed it up, "the physician gradually became the unofficial executioner for the sake of convenience, informality, and relative secrecy."

Other medical personnel participated also. Nurses took a hand in scheduling patients and prisoners for liquidation and often in the actual killing. Red Cross trucks delivered the gas. The German Red Cross, in fact, once advanced 1,000,000 reichsmarks to the S.S. to fund the initial expenses of the death programs. There were also the "desk murderers"-- medical administrators who rarely ever killed a patient directly but who presided indirectly over the murder of hundreds of thousands.

Dutch physicians, on the other hand, refused to participate in these programs. On December 19, 1941, the Reich Commissar of the occupied Netherlands abolished medical secrecy and ordered the physicians to concentrate their efforts on mere rehabilitation of the sick to enable them to perform useful labor. While this new order was not grossly unacceptable . . .

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