Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Euthanasia and the Future of Medicine

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Euthanasia and the Future of Medicine

Article excerpt

Euthanasia and the Future of Medicine

Between 1920 and 1935, the most humane and scientifically advanced medical community the world had ever known underwent a radical moral devolution that led to the medical killing of two hundred thousand psychiatric and chronic patients and, later, to physician cooperation with the broader program of social extermination conducted under Nazi auspices. How did it happen? And is the moral implosion of Weimar medicine relevant in any way to the evaluation of contemporary trends in America or Holland?

These were the leading themes of the International Conference on Euthanasia and the Future of Medicine held October 24-25 at Clark University in Worcester, MA. Organized by Patrick Derr, chair of Clark's philosophy department, and attended by more than three hundred physicians, attorneys, academics, and clergy from North America and Europe, the conference heard papers by two dozen speakers including C. Everett Koop, Ralph McInerny, Fred Rosner, Mark Siegler, Arthur Dyck, Milton Heifetz, and Moshe Tendler. Sessions were good humored but often intense.

A recurring theme in many of the presentations was the influence of the 1920 German monograph (The Release of the Destruction of Life Unworthy to be Lived) by Prof. Dr. of Law and Philosophy Karl Binding and Prof. Dr. of Medicine Alfred Hoche. The first complete translation of this work was recently finished by Clark professor Walter Wright. In his own paper, Wright traced the intellectual origins of German medical killing back through such works as Aldred Jost's Das Recht auf den Tod (The Right to Die), arguing that the foundations of medical killing were very different than those of Nazi ideology.

Several speakers lamented the fact that, prior to Robert Lifton's The Nazi Doctors, there was little research on Weimar medicine. An important paper that should contribute to our understanding of the beginnings of medical killing in Germany was presented by Dr. …

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