The Nazi Physicians as Leaders in Eugenics and “Euthanasia”: Lessons for Today

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This article, in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg, reflects on the Nazi eugenics and “euthanasia” programs and their relevance for today. The Nazi doctors used eugenic ideals to justify sterilizations, child and adult “euthanasia,” and, ultimately, genocide.

Contemporary euthanasia has experienced a progression from voluntary to nonvoluntary and from passive to active killing. Modern eugenics has included both positive and negative selective activities.

The 70th anniversary of the Doctors' Trial at Nuremberg provides an important opportunity to reflect on the implications of the Nazi eugenics and “euthanasia” programs for contemporary health law, bioethics, and human rights. In this article, we will examine the role that health practitioners played in the promotion and implementation of State-sponsored eugenics and “euthanasia” in Nazi Germany, followed by an exploration of contemporary parallels and debates in modern bioethics.1

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