Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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procedures were ligation of the vas deferens in men and of the ovarian tubes in women. Professor G. A. Wagner, director of the University of Berlin’s Women’s Clinic, advocated that the law provide an option for removing the entire uterus in mentally deficient women. His convoluted argument was based on the principle of “hereditary health”: mentally deficient women, after being sterilized, were especially likely to attract the opposite sex (who need not worry about impregnating them) and therefore to develop gonorrhea, which is most resistant to treatment when it affects the uterine cervix; the men who would then contract gonorrhea from these women would, in turn, infect other women with desirable hereditary traits and render them sterile. Other medical commentators, making a less genetic and more specifically moralistic argument, favored removal of the uterus in those candidates for sterilization who showed tendencies to promiscuity.* Still more foreboding was an official edict permitting sterilization by irradiation (X rays or radium) in certain specified cases “on the basis of scientific experiments.”13 These experiments, ostensibly in the service of improving medical procedures for specific cases, were a preliminary step toward later X-ray sterilization experiments conducted extensively, harmfully, and sometimes fatally on Jewish men and women in Auschwitz and elsewhere.

Directors of institutions of various kinds had a strong impulse to sterilize in order to eliminate the possible hereditary influence of a wide variety of conditions - blindness, deafness, congenital defects, and such “crippled” states as clubfoot, harelip, and cleft palate.14 The genetically dominated worldview demanded of physicians led to discussions of the advisability of sterilizing not only the weak and impaired, but their relatives, anyone who might be a “carrier” of these defects. Not surprisingly, Fritz Lenz carried the concept farthest in suggesting the advisability of sterilizing people with only slight signs of mental disease, though he recognized that a radical application of this principle would lead to the sterilization of 20 percent of the total German population — something on the order of twenty million people!15

In that atmosphere, humane efforts were likely to take the form of pleas for restriction and exemption: for example, the recommendation by the distinguished anti-Nazi Berlin psychiatrist Karl Bonhoeffer that people who combined hereditary defects with unusual qualities or talents should not be sterilized; and the Munich psychiatrist Dr. Oswald Bumke’s recommendation against sterilizing people who were schizoid rather than schizophrenic, along with his cautionary statement that schizophrenia itself could not be eliminated by sterilization because of the complexity of hereditary influences.16 (The eugenics courts sometimes did make exceptions for the artistically gifted.)

But the regime discouraged qualifications and employed a rhetoric of
* There was, indeed, concern that degenerate individuals might seek sterilization to pursue "unrestrained sexual gratification."12 
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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