Barbarous anatomy classes

Hi there,

There is an argument to be made that contemporary bioethics grew out of the ashes of the Nazi regime. A number of Nazi doctors who collaborated in the atrocities in concentration camps were executed. But others, less well known, used Nazi inhumanity to advance their research agenda. 

An article in a recent issue of the journal Science highlights the use anatomists in Germany and Austria made of executed political prisoners in teaching and research. (See article below). Dr Hermann Stieve, for instance, was a famous professor at the University of Berlin and the Berlin Charité Hospital. He took advantage of the executions to study the female reproductive system, showing a barbaric indifference to the prisoners’ humanity. “What the best and brightest did was see the imprisonment and beheading of human beings as opportunities,” observes a scholar who has studied Stieve’s career.

There is always a great danger of misusing analogies with the Nazis. In many ways their corruption and depravity were unique. But human nature doesn’t change and doctors today still face temptations to objectify patients, to dismiss patient consent, and to place achievement above ethics. “Never forget” is advice bioethicists should take to heart as well.

Michael Cook


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