Bioethics Blogs

Medicine and the Holocaust in Medical Education: International Holocaust Remembrance Day – January 27

By Hedy S. Wald

“Medicine was used for villainous ends during the Holocaust.  The Holocaust was an enormous trauma inflicted on human dignity and the human person; medicine was implicated in crimes against humanity.”  His Eminence Daniel Cardinal DiNardo, Archbishop of Galveston-Houston.1

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day designated by the United Nations General Assembly resolution 60/7 in 2005 after a special session marking the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps and the end of the Holocaust. In the words of Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon (2008), “The International Day in memory of the victims of the Holocaust is a day on which we must reassert our commitment to human rights… We must also go beyond remembrance, and make sure that new generations know this history.  We must apply the lessons of the Holocaust to today’s world.”2

Indeed.  A recent medical humanities article (co-authored with my colleagues Drs. Rubenfeld and Fins)1 was a resounding call for teaching lessons of the Holocaust within medical education.  We joined others in the medical education/bioethics community calling for a curriculum that would create space for a mix of reflective practice and historical awareness to grapple with the medical profession’s central role in “using science to help legitimize persecution, murder and ultimately genocide.”3

“Almost every aspect of contemporary medical ethics is influenced by the history of physician involvement in the Holocaust,” Wynia and colleagues wrote.1  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s (USHMM) “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” exhibit3 documents the moral failures of individual physicians and the medical establishment during the Third Reich including participation in horrific experimentation and medicalized genocide.  My daughter, a pediatrics resident at the time, and I visited that exhibit in 2012 and in our photo essay about this experience, confronted how healers became killers,4 how traditional Hippocratic virtues morphed into unspeakable evil.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.