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Unethical behavior of Nazi doctors

Article in Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine May 1994

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Edzard Ernst
University of Exeter


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246 Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine Volume 87 April 1994

alike. After all it only means a teacher, and to a greater or no more than conjectural. Likewise, Vickers et aL (December
lesser extent, we all have to teach. 1993 JRSM, pp 697-8) report impressively on their findings
GEORGE E RAY Old 28 Ringshall from a breast cancer screening exercise, though they are
Hertfordshire HP4 1ND, UK honest enough to admit that 'The long-term effects of the UK
swreening p a me on breast cancer mortality are not known'.
Non-sexist grammar in medical literature Today, in the National Health Service, the slogan is 'audit'.
It might be timely to apply this discipline to health
Finn (March 1993 JRSM, p 184), sadly, was quick to 'stand promotion in all its various facets, heeding the cautionary
corrected' for apparently not knowing that sex-neutral words of Robert Boyle, that 'Sceptical Chymist', when he
pronouns somehow are good and sex-positive pronouns are wrote of those who:
bad, or so the feminists have decreed. However, the
improvements they have in mind for the English tongue were carried along by the genius of the age in which they lived, being
satisfied with assertions instead of proofs, or, at least, often admitting
would make your hair stand, assuming you care something as proofs the slightest degree of probability, unsupported by that
about the language. Words (to use the term loosely - strictly rigorous analysis which is required by modern philosophy.
barbarisms would be more accurate) that no caregiver but RoY GOULDING Keats' House, Guy's Hospital
only a mother could love. 'Themself' is one particularly London SE1 9RT, UK
atrocious example. Orwell's Newspeak and Bowdler rolled
into one. Unethical behaviour of Nazi doctors
William the Conqueror had more respect for the English The paper by Drobniewski (September 1993 JRSM, pp 541-3)
language than these modern worshippers of the epicene. about the unethical behaviour of Nazi doctors asks, amongst
JAMES KALIVAS 12300 Pawnee Lane others, the question why there was so little resistance from
Leawood, Kansas 66209, USA peers against medical atrocities. Several possible answers
are given but one is neglected.
It seems important to understand that many of the peers
George Frederic Still were 'exchanged' when the Nazi regime took over. For
While delighted to learn that medical students are interested instance, in the medical faculty of Vienna more than 70%
in the history of medicine (June 1993 JRSM, p 369), I could of all members were fired the moment the Nazi troops
hardly believe my eyes when the first English paediatrician marched into Vienna in 1938. Obviously this change-over
is described as George Frederick Still. had very profound effects. It goes almost without saying that
I have before me Common Disorders and Diseases of the 'replacements' of the former peers were chosen not
Childhood by George Frederic Still'. according to medical quality but according to political
That 'Frederick' is not merely a typing error is evident 'trustworthiness'. After these drastic events, which in many
from the fact that it occurs three times on the same page. cases ended with the death of the former faculty member,
On a more personal note, I am indebted to Frederic Still - there were no more peers in the true and traditional sense.
when someone commented adversely on my bachelor status In other words, the evildoers amongst the medical profession
implying that I should not be a paediatrician, the late John had not just little resistance from above but rather much
Peter Mills Tizard remarked: 'And so was Still'. support from the newly instituted, high level 'superiors'.
THOMAS STAPLETON The Foundry Cottage In view of this, the lack of peer intervention was an
Lane End, High Wycombe inevitable result. The events that took place in the medical
Buckinghamshire HP14 3JS, UK faculty of Vienna of 1938 not only opened the door to
atrocities taking place, but had additional sequelae which
1 Still George Frederic. Common Disorders and Diseases of unfortunately lasted much longer than the Third Reich. The
Childhood, 3rd edn. Oxford: Oxford Medical Publications, 1915 loss of peers meant an unprecedented loss of knowledge and
authority which cannot possibly be filled in one or even two
generations. Even after the war, faculty members instituted
by the Nazis did everything to remain in place; the return
Health promotion of the survivors of the former colleagues was actively
In a recent issue, pride ofplace was given to a paper by ILord discouraged. Thus, the Nazi regime meant the end of the
Butterfield in which he extolled Health Promotion and uiged once famous school of medicine in Vienna and the persistence
occupational physicians to join the campaign (December 1993 of a spirit that can be felt even today.
JRSM, pp 683-4). He surely could not have overlooked those E ERNST Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
real problems of occupational health, which still beset the Formerly: University of Vienna
workforce and which can be effectively resolved only by those Wahringer Gurtel 18-20
1090 Wien, Austria
practitioners who are specially and, might I add, uniquely Present address: Postgraduate Medical School
trained and experienced for dealing with them. In this University of Exeter, Barrack Road
process, their recommendations may call for significant Exeter, UK
changes in the pattern of operations, possibly incurring, Exclusion diets
initially at least, some interference with productivity. No
wonder that the response on the part of management is not Dr Hodson's letter (August 1993 JRSM, p 493) I regard as
always enthusiastic. important, not only for its intrinsic merit but because,
On the other hand, the demands made by health promotion reporting one case only, you, Sir, had the percipience to
are financially minimal, seldom intrude directly into publish. I approved his discussion paper (September 1992
working activities and tend to create a caring image for the JRSM, p 566) which I urged him to offer for publication, for
organization concerned. Manament, therefore, is supportive. his conclusions were very similar to my own. Although I have
Yet before already overburdened occupational physicians known him for more than a decade as a result of our shared
have their energies dissipated in this way, would it be interest in allergy, I remained ignorant of his own food
unreasonable to enquire to what extent these schemes for intolerance, the publication of the details of which I regard
Health Promotion have been critically and objectively as important as his objective studies of his patients, since
appraised for the modifications they actually make to the I believe there is much to be learned from doctors reporting
morbidity and mortality among those engaging in them? In their own symptoms and their management.
the same issue of the Journal, Brodie and Dugdill (December I am an allergic of long standing, having had recurrent
1993 JRSM, pp 694-6) describe their efforts among a small 'bilious attacks' as a child, and frequent respiratory
group of motivated volunteers in Liverpool, for whom the infections and occasional acute otitis media. In early adult
changes achieved have been, in all conscience, minimal and life I developed recurrent sino-bronchitis, with in late life
not always sustained, while the modifications achieved in mild asthma, nasal catarrh, deafness, blepharitis and
their chosen parameters for any real effect upon health are conjunctivitis, irritable colon, pruritus ani, and other

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