An all-day gathering at Drew University in Madison on Thursday, April 16, will examine the complicity of doctors in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during World War II.
Dr. Stacy Gallin, an adjunct assistant professor and director of Drew’s Medical Humanities Program, is organizing the gathering in conjunction with the Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Studies. She is working with Philip Scibilia, director of Drew’s Medical Humanities Program.
Organizers say the timing, on Yom Hashoa, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, is “an attempt to honor the memory of those whose lives were irrevocably changed by Nazi medicine during the Holocaust.”
Gallin, 35, grew up in West Orange, in a family not directly affected by the Holocaust. Her concern with the subject grew as she studied the impact of eugenics, doing her doctoral studies in medical humanities at Drew.
“I feel a responsibility for making the world a better place than I found it, and a safe place for my two sons,” she said.
Seven decades after World War II, Gallin sees an urgent challenge “to ensure that advances in science and technology benefit humanity, and not the other way around — as happened in Nazi Germany.” Gallin is hoping the conference is the start of something more lasting at Drew: a long-term program dealing with bioethical issues arising from the World War II era.
The event, titled “Reflecting on the Past to Protect the Future: A Conference on Medicine, Ethics, and the Holocaust,” will explore the modern ramifications for medicine, science, human rights, ethics, and health-care policy.
It has the support of — among other organizations — the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Houston-based Center for Medicine After the Holocaust.
Dr. Allen Menkin is one of the organizers. As a young medical student, he wrote an essay on “the complicity of the German medical community” in the horrors of the Holocaust. At the time, he recalled, he was baffled by how doctors regarded as the “cream of the world’s medical community” could “abandon their ethics wholesale.”
Now, after decades of family practice and involvement in various community-oriented medical programs, he is less judgmental but even more alarmed.
“The doctors who testified at Nuremberg were all employees of the state,” he said. “They were neutral, amoral; they said they followed orders — like employees nowadays focusing exclusively on the good of a company.”
Keynote speaker Arthur L. Caplan will discuss “Euthanasia in Germany, Assisted Dying in Europe and the U.S. Today — What Are the Lessons from the Past?” Caplan is the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.
Caplan said the Holocaust is not taught widely enough in medical schools “as a key lesson about sophisticated doctors letting racism and dehumanized thinking distort their values.” He told NJ Jewish News, “It is used too frequently in off-the-cuff references which are often not apt or appropriate, such as ‘Animal experimentation is a holocaust,’ or ‘Legalizing aid in dying will lead to Nazi euthanasia,’ or ‘Stem cell research is akin to Nazi barbarity.’”
He said he would like to see the event at Drew lead to “a better understanding of what happened in Germany and why.”
Other leading figures in the field will speak during the day, or take part in panel discussions. They include Tessa Chelouche, Patricia Herber Rice, Michael Berenbaum, Michael Perlin, and Allen Keller.