Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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Sterilization and the Nazi Biomedical Vision 
medical emergency: “dangerous patients” and “urgent cases” were people with hereditary taints still in the prime of life. Among “urgent cases” were mentally deficient but physically healthy men and women between the ages of sixteen and forty, schizophrenic and manic-depressive patients in remission, epileptics and alcoholics under the age of fifty, etc.17 Once a petition was heard before a sterilization court, the die was pretty well cast. More than 90 percent of petitions taken before the special courts in 1934 resulted in sterilization (though a screening process eliminated some before they got to court); and fewer than 5 percent of appeals against sterilization, made to higher courts, were upheld.18 But the principle of legality was nonetheless extremely important, and the strict secrecy surrounding court deliberations lent power and mystery to this expression of medicalized authority.

The legal structure cloaked considerable chaos and arbitrariness in criteria for sterilization (especially concerning mental conditions, which resulted in the greatest number of sterilizations) and concerning alleged hereditary factors. Inevitably, too, political considerations affected diagnoses and decisions — as was made clear by a directive from Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary and close associate, instructing that the moral and political behavior of a person be considered in making a diagnosis of feeblemindedness. The clear implication was that one could be quick to label “feebleminded” a person seen as hostile to the Nazis, but that one should be cautious indeed about so labeling an ideologically enthusiastic Party member. Political currents and whims also affected the project in various ways; and, despite its high priority, there were undoubtedly periods of diminished enthusiasm for sterilization. No one really knows how many people were actually sterilized; reliable estimates are generally between 200,000 and 350,000.19

In association with the sterilization laws, and as a further expression of racial policy, steps were taken to establish a national card index of people with hereditary taints. Special research institutes for hereditary biology and racial hygiene were set up at universities — for example, the institute established by Otmar von Verschuer, a professor at Frankfurt. These institutes sought genetic information about individuals extending back over several generations, and made use of hospitals, courts, and local and national health institutions. The physician, as genetic counselor and policeman, could be the vigilant “protector of the family that is free from hereditary defects.” 20 In other words, sterilization was the medical fulcrum of the Nazi biocracy.
Fanatical Genetics:

The Role of Ernst Rüdin The predominant medical presence in the Nazi sterilization program was Dr. Ernst Rüdin, a Swiss-born psychiatrist of international renown. Originally a student of Emil Kraepelin, the great classical psychiatrist,  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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