Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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Sterilization and the Nazi Biomedical Vision 
 
in extreme form, the attraction of the Nazi biomedical vision for a certain kind of biologically and genetically oriented scientist.
  
  
Opposition to Sterilization

There did not seem to be much opposition to sterilization. The Catholic Church disapproved of it, but avoided confronting the issue and did little more than press for the exemption of Catholic judges and doctors from enforcing the law. One judge on a Hereditary Health Appeals Court raised the interesting, question of the “burden of unusual responsibility” placed on doctors required to perform operations that “serve no therapeutic purpose.” But Gerhard Wagner — then the leading Nazi medical authority and a zealous advocate of sterilization — denied any such moral conflict in doctors; and a Party newspaper ran a column with the significant heading “Life or Death,” which made the simple point that the life of the nation took precedence over “dogma and conflicts of conscience,” and also that opposition to the government’s program would be met with strong retaliation.23

The great majority of the doctors I interviewed told me that they approved of the sterilization laws at the time. They believed the laws to be consistent with prevailing medical and genetic knowledge concerning the prevention of hereditary defects, though a few of these doctors had some hesitation about the laws’ compulsory features. The doctors all stressed their absolute distinction between those sterilization policies and later “euthanasia.”

Decisions about sterilization were affected by bureaucratic struggles both between doctors and lawyers and between extremely ardent and less ardent advocates of the procedure. One doctor I interviewed, Johann S., who had been a leading organizer and high-level participant in Nazi medical programs including sterilization, thought that “the law was totally messed up by the legal people.” He and his medical colleagues believed strongly that “it would have been more appropriate to leave this decision [about whom and when to sterilize] to a doctors’ team.” While psychiatrists later emphasized their restraint, Dr. S. related incidents in which they had to be restrained from sterilizing people with relatively benign psychological difficulties such as treatable depressions. He told how even Gerhard Wagner (whom he tended to glorify) had restrained a physician-health officer with the admonition, “This is not a rabbit hunt.” While Dr. S. recognized that excessive zeal was widespread, he tended to excuse it as a product of the idealism of that time: “The great enthusiasm that carried through the developments between 1933 and 1939 cannot be denied. Everybody wanted to contribute. One of the first National Socialist laws to be enacted was the law on [hereditary] health. Thus the [state] health officers demonstrated their ambition to have as many people as possible sterilized.”  
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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