This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg doctors’ trial where 20 Nazi physicians were brought to account for heinous crimes against humanity.
To remember the trial and reflect on its continuing significance for health and society today, a series of events is planned for all four University of Colorado campuses and communities during the nationally-declared Week of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, April 24 to 28.
The events are part of the Holocaust Genocide and Contemporary Bioethics Program at the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities.
"The legacy of health professionals’ involvement in the Holocaust is critical to understanding virtually every aspect of modern medical ethics, from abortion to assisted dying to workplace wellness, genetics, privacy and public health," noted the center's director Matthew Wynia. "What’s more, it casts a shadow on many current social and political events that cannot be ignored."
This year’s program will feature three experts: Stacy Gallin, DMH; Tessa Chelouche, MD; and Susan M. Miller, MD, MPH.
Gallin and Chelouche, from the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust (MIMEH), aim to explore the ethical implications of medical transgressions that took place during the Holocaust for modern scientific theory, medical practice, health care policy and human rights endeavors. They will be joined by Miller, a professor of family medicine at the Houston Methodist Research Institute.
"Before World War II, scientific experimentation was highly valued in Germany, which had a code of ethics that specifically required consent from research subjects," explained Miller.
"But multiple elements led to an ethical breakdown in German research during the Nazi regime, including cultural, political and military factors. These factors affected research agendas and resulted in activities by health professionals that became the very definition of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity."
But Nazi medical war crimes were not limited to notorious research abuses.
"While much has been written about the Holocaust, not enough attention has been paid to the medical and scientific theories that were the foundation for the mass murder of millions in the name of societal progress," added Gallin.
"Exploring the process by which healers were transformed into killers and the relevance of the medical community's participation in the Holocaust is critical to understanding ethical issues today."
Chelouche noted beginning and end-of-life care, medical genetics, human-subject research ethics, health care law and policies as well the protection of vulnerable populations all exist in the shadow of Nazi medicine.
"At the Nuremberg doctors' trial the Nazi doctors showed no remorse for what they had done. In fact, just the opposite; they invoked ethical arguments to justify their actions. We must acknowledge and understand the connection to contemporary issues to ensure that these types of ethical violations never happen again."
Gallin founded MIMEH in 2015 and works closely with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., to address just this.
Presentations and panel discussions will be held at all four University of Colorado campuses and the University of Denver. Additionally, speakers will also be visiting classrooms at CU Boulder and the Colorado Springs Branch School of Medicine.
Advance registration is requested for all events.