Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
 
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“LIFE UNWORTHY OF LIFE”: THE GENETIC CURE 
 
Psychiatrists in academic centers tended to be slightly more removed from the process than those in state hospitals. As one of the former put it to me: “We had to send them patients ... but it [the killing] was done there.”* Yet in academic centers no less than state hospitals, psychiatrists made constant compromises, sending some patients and saving others, and at times even — according to the principle expressed to me by one such psychiatrist — “taking part in the selections [for the project] in order to prevent worse things from happening.”

There was a generational factor, as a psychiatrist who took active part in the program made clear to me: “The younger ones [among whom he identified himself] were more in favor of it”; and it was only from among one of the older ones [that a psychiatrist would occasionally] raise . . . his voice in warning .. . . [and] point out to us that you can’t do that, where do you want to draw the line?” Younger psychiatrists tended to identify, themselves more with both the regime and the war effort, and might come to believe (as the same man went on to explain), “If the enemy is killing our healthy youth, than this [‘euthanasia’] is not such a crime.” Moreover, the term “unworthy life” was bandied about in discussions among psychiatric colleagues no less than in official documents, so that psychiatrists found themselves accepting it in varying degree, feeling that at least in certain cases “perhaps they [those running the program] are right after all,” because “back then we were not unequivocally or clearly opposed.” For, as he further explained, “in a dictatorship ... the authoritarian regime takes responsibility away from [the individual]” so that rather than struggling over whether to act in one way or another, one feels, “I must act this way, . . . not get into a conflict situation,,. . . which may be wrong ... but ... does have its advantages.”

For the psychiatric rank and file then participation in direct medical killing was a way of going along with a regime one tended to be either in sympathy with or at least not opposed to. Whether one plunged into the project enthusiastically, made numerical compromises (gave up some patients to the killing process in order to save a few others from it), or focused on professionalism, one ended in some measure divesting oneself of responsibility for one’s actions.

Concerning the specific mentality of psychiatrists, there are two aspects of their ideology I have only, touched upon, having to do with their perception of psychiatric patients, psychiatric illness, and psychiatric hierarchy. First, many German psychiatrists (and psychiatrists working elsewhere, in similar traditions) were committed to the idea of schizophrenia as an organic incurable disease, whose natural course was deterioration. Indeed, for many, professional pride depended on that view. Any effort to penetrate the psyche of a schizophrenic patient as a means of understanding and a form of treatment was viewed by these psychiatrists as
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* Killing centers were created from state hospitals, from large church-run institutions that had been expropriated by the state or, in one case (Brandenburg), from a prison.   
 
THE NAZI DOCTORS:
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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