PMID: 12225440Sep 13, 2002Paper

Psychiatrists as a moral community? Psychiatry under the Nazis and its contemporary relevance

The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Michael Dudley, Fran Gale


In Nazi-occupied Europe, substantial numbers of psychiatrists murdered their patients while many other psychiatrists were complicit with their actions. This paper addresses their motivations and actions, and with particular reference to Australia, explores issues of contemporary relevance. The events are reviewed in their historical context using mainly secondary sources. The assumption that the term "Nazi" denotes a closed and unrepeatable chapter is questioned. As with the Holocaust that followed, medical killing of psychiatric patients was an open secret with gradations of collective knowing. Perpetrators were impelled by pressure from peers and superiors, unquestioning obedience, racist ideology and careerism. Perpetrators and bystanders' denial was facilitated by use of deceptive language, bureaucratic and technical proficiency, and notions such as "a greater cause" or "sacred mission". Dissociation and numbing were common. Psychiatrists were the main medical specialty involved because Nazi race and eugenic ideology (accepted by many psychiatrists) targeted mentally ill people for sterilization and euthanasia, and because psychiatrists were state-controlled and tended to objectify patients. Few psychiatrists resisted. Nazi...Continue Reading


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