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Introduction to Medical Ethics and the Holocaust

Dr. Rubenfeld’s opening remarks from the Michael DeBakey Medical Ethics Lecture Series in 2007.



Most people, including medical professionals, know very little about the central role of the German medical profession in the design and implementation of the Holocaust. They know even less about the legal, moral, and philanthropic precedents and support provided by American eugenicists to German eugenics.


This lecture gives an overview of both subjects and provides an introduction to the subsequent lectures. Eugenics is defined as the science of improving a human population by controlled breeding to increase the occurrence of desirable heritable characteristics and to decrease the occurrence of undesirable heritable characteristics.


German physicians, the best in the world at the time, initially chose to prevent transmission of undesirable genetic traits by sterilization and prohibiting marriages of non–Aryans to Aryans. They then developed gas chambers to eliminate these German, not specifically Jewish, “lives not worth living” by involuntary “euthanasia” or mercy killing. These gas chambers were later enlarged and multiplied for the Final Solution to the Jewish problem.


American eugenicists provided:


  • The first involuntary sterilization laws in the world as a model for German sterilization laws

  • Philanthropic support for the research foundation that help train Dr. Josef Mengele

  • Model immigration laws for preventing undesirable Jewish, Italian and Chinese immigrants

  • A book by Madison Grant about Nordic supremacy that Hitler called his “Bible”


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