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The New England Journal of MedicineNazism and the Journal

Historical Reflections on Medicine’s Role — and the New England Journal of Medicine’s role — in Societal Injustices

In an era where understanding the past is key to shaping a more informed and ethical future, this article takes a look into the medical community’s historical engagement with Nazism, highlighting the New England Journal of Medicine‘s role and the broader implications for medical ethics and professional responsibility.

Key Points:

  • The article is an introspective look at how the Journal historically engaged with the rise of National Socialism, its biases, and the resultant injustices, particularly focusing on the period of 1935 to 1944.
  • Adolf Hitler was first mentioned in the Journal in 1935, yet there was a significant delay until 1944 before Nazi war crimes were explicitly acknowledged in its pages.
  • The Nazis’ development of racial science, deeply ingrained with antisemitism, went largely unchallenged by the Journal during this time, reflecting a broader issue of silence and omission in the medical community.
  • The Journal initially focused on topics like Germany’s health insurance system and medical practices, often overlooking the regime’s persecutory actions and medical atrocities.
  • A 1949 article in the Journal by Leo Alexander, post-World War II, marked a shift, explicitly condemning Nazi medical crimes and contributing to a growing discourse on medical ethics and human experimentation.
  • The Journal’s limited coverage and critical analysis of Nazism were out of step with other contemporary publications, which more actively reported on the regime’s discrimination and antisemitism.
  • Articles like the 1935 piece by Davis and Kroeger highlighted an often uncritical acceptance of Nazi policies, neglecting their broader, more sinister implications for society and medical ethics.
  • The medical community’s complicity, through silence or active endorsement, in the face of Nazi atrocities underscores the importance of ethical vigilance and the need for historical accountability within the profession.

Three Hippocratic physicians played critical roles in the prosecution of 23 Nazi doctors charged with murder and torture for conducting lethal medical experiments on concentration camp prisoners. Two of the physicians, Leopold Alexander and Andrew C. Ivy, were Americans, and the other, Werner Leibbrandt, was German.

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