Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Sterilization and the Nazi Biomedical Vision 
Once in power — Hitler took the oath of office as Chancellor of the Third Reich on 30 January 1933 — the Nazi regime made sterilization the first application of the biomedical imagination to this issue of collective life or death. On 22 June, Wilhelm Frick, the minister of the interior, introduced the early sterilization law with a declaration that Germany was in grave danger of Volkstod (“death of the people” [or “nation” or “race"]) and that harsh and sweeping measures were therefore imperative. The law was implemented three weeks later, less than six months after Hitler had become chancellor, and was extended by amendation later that year. It became basic sterilization doctrine and set the tone for the regime's medicalized approach to “life unworthy of life.” Included among the “hereditarily sick” who were to be surgically sterilized were the categories of congenital feeblemindedness (now called mental deficiency), an estimated 200,000; schizophrenia, 80,000; manic depressive insanity, 20,000; epilepsy, 60,000; Huntington’s chorea (a hereditary brain disorder), 600; hereditary blindness, 4,000; hereditary deafness, 16,000; grave bodily malformation, 20,000; and hereditary alcoholism, 10,000. The projected total of 410,000 was considered only preliminary, drawn mostly from people already in institutions; it was assumed that much greater numbers of people would eventually be identified and sterilized.

Special “Hereditary Health Courts” were set up to make decisions on sterilization, their composition reflecting the desired combination of medicalization and Nazi Party influence. Of the three members, two were physicians — one an administrative health officer likely to have close Party ties and the other ostensibly knowledgeable about issues of hereditary health; the third was a district judge, also likely to be close to the regime, who served as chairman and coordinator. There were also appeals courts, which made final decisions in contested cases and on which some of the regime’s most recognized medical leaders served. All physicians were legally required to report to health officers anyone they encountered in their practice or elsewhere who fell into any of the preceding categories for sterilization, and also to give testimony on such matters unrestricted by the principle of patient-doctor confidentiality. Physicians also performed the surgical procedures. The entire process was backed up by law and police power.10

On 18 October 1935, a major ordinance regulating sterilization and the issuing of marriage licenses followed directly upon the notorious Nuremberg Laws (15 September), which prohibited marriage or any sexual contact between Jews and non-Jews. The Nuremberg lawmakers described themselves as “permeated with the knowledge that the purity of the German blood is a precondition for the continued existence of the German people, and filled with the inflexible determination to make the German nation secure for all future time.”11

There were revealing discussions of method. The favored surgical  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

Robert J. Lifton
ISBN 0-465-09094
© 1986
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