Last month the German Medical Association asked forgiveness for the German physicians who perpetrated atrocities and abetted the Nazi medical philosophy before and during WWII. The group admitted that contrary to public belief, German physicians were not coerced into experimenting on prisoners or running Nazi death camps.
I was a seminarian browsing the current periodicals section of St. Mary’s Seminary library twenty years ago, when I discovered an article which discussed the leadership role that Nazi physicians and nurses took in euthanizing physically disabled and mentally incompetent German children in hospitals and asylums before the beginning of WWII. I had been standing while casually leafing through the pages of the magazine, but sat down quickly, not only to read the article more attentively, but because I was suddenly sickened to learn the German doctors were not unwilling participants in the Nazi holocaust or its prodrome. Nazi medicine began in German hospitals with the killing of the “unfit” well before Hitler’s “final solution” of genocide. It was this discovery which fueled my interest in medical ethics and the importance for every people and nation to respect the dignity of every human life.
Such a long time after my disturbing discovery in a quiet seminary library, and even longer after the terrible events themselves, the German Medical Association on behalf of its previous and present leaders acknowledges its cruelties before and during the war and asks forgiveness from their victims, living and dead and their descendants. Their request comes alongside their caution to the German nation to avoid travelling down the road of state-sponsored euthanasia programs ever again as the Dutch-based euthanasia programs have done. So many from whom they need forgiveness are gone. It is imperative that we never forget, never give up warning, and never repeat such crude violations of human dignity.