Learning from the past
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum exhibit “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” opens in Aurora March 22
by Meleah Himber, M.Ed, Community Outreach Coordinator, Center for Bioethics and Humanities, University of Colorado, Anschutz
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s traveling exhibition “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race” will make a stop in Aurora this spring. The exhibition examines how the Nazi leadership, in collaboration with individuals in professions traditionally charged with healing and the public good, used science to help legitimize persecution, murder, and ultimately genocide. It opens at CU Anschutz on March 22, 2018 and will be on display through May 22, 2018.
“Deadly Medicine explores the Holocaust’s roots in then-contemporary scientific and pseudo-scientific thought,” explained exhibition curator Susan Bachrach. “At the same time, it touches on complex ethical issues we face today, such as how societies acquire and use scientific knowledge and how they balance the rights of the individual with the needs of the larger community.”
Matthew Wynia, MD, MPH, director of the University of Colorado Center for Bioethics and Humanities, welcomes the Deadly Medicine exhibit as an expansion of the annual Holocaust Genocide and Contemporary Bioethics (HGCB) program of the CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities. The theme of the 2018 HGCB program is Echoes of the Holocaust: Cultivating Compassion in 21st Century Healers, and it will include programming across all four CU Campuses during the Week of Remembrance, April 9-13. The program will feature keynote speaker Patricia Heberer-Rice, PhD, senior historian at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and an expert on the Deadly Medicine exhibit.
“The legacy of health professionals’ involvement in the Holocaust is critical to understanding virtually every aspect of modern medical ethics, from medical aid in dying to genetics, privacy and public health,” Wynia said. “What’s more, it casts a shadow on many current social and political events that cannot be ignored.”
The annual HGCB program was first developed a decade ago by William S. Silvers, MD, a Denver-based allergist/immunologist whose parents were Holocaust survivors. Silvers, with other physicians and community stakeholders, created the original program to educate health professionals on the legacy of medical involvement in the Holocaust and its impact on contemporary bioethics.
“As the program expands, we want to relate the content to contemporary ethical challenges faced by health professionals working in areas of the world experiencing genocide, violence and political conflict. Physicians must always practice with compassion, respect and justice – especially in difficult, conflicted times,” said Silvers, who is not surprised by how much the program has grown, despite its difficult subject matter.
“We started this to inspire all health professionals to remember the lessons of the Holocaust, a time when those who should have been healers became killers in response to a tragic and powerful political ideology. The ultimate duty of a health professional is to protect the patient, not become a servant of the state or a dominant political ideology or culture,” Silvers said. “It is important to know that what happened during the Holocaust was not the result of the actions of a few outlier ‘crazy doctors.’”
By 1942, 38,000 doctors, approximately half of all German physicians, had become members of the Nazi party.
The Deadly Medicine exhibit traces the tragedy of the Holocaust to its roots in the theory of eugenics, which was influenced by early-20th-century beliefs asserting that Charles Darwin’s scientific theories of “survival of the fittest” could be applied to humans. Supporters, spanning the globe and political spectrum, believed that through careful controls on marriage and reproduction, a nation’s “genetic health” could be improved.
The Nazi regime was founded on the party’s conviction that some races were inherently inferior, including the so-called Jewish race, and that those individuals had to be eliminated from German society so that the fittest “Aryans” could thrive. The Nazi state fully committed itself to implementing a uniquely racist and anti-Semitic variation of eugenics to “scientifically” engineer what it considered to be a superior race. By the end of World War II, six million Jews had been murdered. Millions of others also became victims of persecution and murder through Nazi “racial hygiene” programs designed to cleanse Germany of “biological threats” to the nation’s health, including “foreign-blooded” Roma and Sinti (Gypsies), LGBTQ individuals, and persons perceived as “hereditarily ill,” a category which included mental illness and those with physical or intellectual disabilities.
The Deadly Medicine Exhibit will be on display at the Fulginiti Pavilion on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus from March 22-May 22. The exhibit opening will be held 5-8 p.m. on Thursday, March 22. Exhibit hours are 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday-Friday. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
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