Dr Robert Jay Lifton THE NAZI DOCTORS:
                        Medical Killing and the
                            Psychology of Genocide ©
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[subse…] quent symbolization over the course of childhood and adulthood, intellectual and ethical principles become combined with images of body and person. Pitfalls along the way are various forms of dissociation and doubling resulting in a “disembodied self” in which these various elements no longer cohere. Our understanding of the embodied self includes a continuous symbolic or formative process, with constant creation and re-creation of images and forms; an awareness of larger social and historical projects around one; and a capacity to confront the idea of one’s own death as related to broader principles of life continuity or larger human connectedness. A sense of the embodied self enables us to say, with William Barrett, “We are always more than any machine we may construct.”140

It must be emphasized that the problem is never merely, or even primarily, one of individual psychology. Collective currents either press large numbers of people in the direction of dissociation and disembodiment or, in contrast, encourage or even nurture the more integrated, embodied self. Individuals nonetheless vary in degrees of what I am calling embodiment, and therefore in the capacity to avoid the destructive forms of doubling associated with victimization and genocide.

Prophylaxis against the genocidal directions of the self, therefore, must always include critical examination of ideologies and institutions in their interaction with styles of self-process. We have seen this to be true in special ways for professionals. For instance, the physician with a strong sense of embodied self has a greater chance to hold on to universal healing principles in the face of ideological pressures to the contrary. He or she would be less susceptible than were most Nazi doctors either to a technicized professional identity (“I am a professional healer and nothing else, in no way responsible for Auschwitz; so I go along with it and heal when I can”) or to an ideologized professional identity (“As a doctor to the Volk and a cultivator of genes, my participation in killing is in the service of healing the Nordic race”). But if the destructive ideological and behavioral pressures are sufficiently great, virtually any professional self may be susceptible to moving in genocidal directions.

The professional does well to prepare for such exigencies by maintaining a balance of what I call advocacy and detachment, of clear ethical commitment and technical skill. A physician’s “calling” would include commitment under all conditions to Hippocratic principles of healing. The embodied self requires both constant critical awareness of larger projects demanding allegiance and equally pervasive empathy, fellow feeling, toward all other human beings.  
Medical Killing and the
Psychology of Genocide

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