The Vienna Protocol and Reflections on Nazi Medicine: Murder à la Carte
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An historian of World War II Germany was asked, about whether there was a single ideological notion that proved to be the most influential in allowing the horrific evils of the Holocaust to take place. It is the very idea, derived from the Romantics, he wrote, that artists are entitled to live outside of morality. Hitler and others unquestionably saw themselves in this way. With this realization we have arrived at the reductio ad absurdum of this Romantic ethic: the Artist as Murderer. And it is because we believe that like artists, physicians occupy a higher sphere, that we have, in Holocaust times, the transformation of the physician, like the artist, into the murderer. Like the artist, who murders but does not do so with his own hand, the physician supervises executions and unspeakable experiments. Anatomists buttressed their collections at a range of German and Austrian universities, by placing orders from among the executed and about-to-be executed. It is this that I have in mind when I speak of "murder-a-la-carte." Pernkopf was one of these anatomists. Through the atlas he immortalizes the victims. Years later, a surgeon asks about the atlas and protocols for continued use, to benefit patients and educate, are created. The surgeon may well be rescuing the medical profession itself from its own historical sins of presumed unaccountability, of returning it to a human place where the dignity of the patient remains inviolable, and where the victims of medically inspired evil gaze out at us from the pages of the atlas, both as a blessing and as a warning.
Image credit: Table of Contents image provided by the Medical University of Vienna, MUW-AD-003250-5-ABB--89
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