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When science is put in the service of evil

The Holocaust is one of the worst collective crimes in the history of humanity – and medical science was complicit in the horrors.

After World War II, evidence was given at the Nuremberg Trials of reprehensible research carried out on humans. This includes subjects being frozen, infected with tuberculosis, or having limbs amputated.

There was also specific research into pharmacology that is less well-known, as can be seen from the articles we have published over the past 15 years.

Read more: Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?

The prestige of German medicine

German pharmacology and chemistry enjoyed great international prestige from the second half of the 19th century.

This golden age ended with the Nazi Party’s rise to power in 1933 and was replaced with institutionalised criminal behaviour in public health and human research.

At the beginning of World War II, Nazi leadership saw medical and pharmaceutical research as a front-line tool to contribute to the war effort and reduce the impact of injury, disease and epidemics on troops.

Nazi leaders believed concentration camps were a source of “inferior beings” and “degenerates” who could (and should) be used as research subjects.

German pharmacology and medicine lost all dignity. As Louis Falstein pointed out:

the Nazis prostituted law, perverted education and corrupted the civil service, but they made killers out of physicians.

The rise of eugenics in central Europe at the beginning of the 20th century paved the way for the Nazi government to implement a disastrous policy of “racial hygiene”.

The Aktion T4 Programme

The Nazi ideology promoted the persecution of those who were considered “abnormal”, as part of the Aktion T4 program.

September 1, 1939 – the date of the start of World War II – marked the beginning of the mass extermination of patients with “deficiencies” or mental conditions, who were deemed to be “empty human shells”.

At first, the crimes were carried out via carbon monoxide poisoning.

In 1941, a second phase was launched: so-called “discrete euthanasia” via a lethal injection of drugs such as opiates and scopolamine (anti-neausea medication), or the use of low-doses of barbiturates to cause terminal pneumonia.

These techniques were combined with food rations and turning off the hospital heating during winter.

These euthanasia programmes led to what amounted to psychiatric genocide, with the murder of more than 250,000 patients. This is possibly the most heinous criminal act in the history of medicine.

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Source: The Conversation