Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

April 13, 2005

Doctors Without Conscience

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:30 pm

The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has what is, for that journal, a rather unusual article — an article by Elie Wiesel (PDF version) about doctors under the Nazi regime.

I wonder if the timing of the article is significant.

In any case, Wiesel writes better than I do, so here are some key excerpts:

This is one of those stories that invite fear.

Now we know. During the period of the past century that I call Night, medicine was practiced in certain places not to heal but to harm, not to fight off death but to serve it.

In the conflict between Good and Evil during the Second World War, the infamous Nazi doctors played a crucial role. They preceded the torturers and assassins in the science of organized cruelty that we call the Holocaust. There is a Talmudic adage, quite disturbing, that applies to them: Tov she-barofim le-gehinom — “The best doctors are destined for hell.” The Nazi doctors made hell.

Inspired by Nazi ideology and implemented by its apostles, eugenics and euthanasia in the late 1930s and early 1940s served no social necessity and had no scientific justification. Like a poison, they ultimately contaminated all intellectual activity in Germany. But the doctors were the precursors. How can we explain their betrayal? What made them forget or eclipse the Hippocratic Oath? What gagged their conscience? What happened to their humanity?

We know the facts. The motives as well. One day, Hitler and Himmler’s health minister made it known to leaders in the medical field that, according to a secret decision made at the highest level, it was necessary to get rid of “useless mouths” — the insane, the terminally ill, children, and elderly people who were condemned to misfortune by nature and to suffering and fear by God. Few in the German medical profession believed it worthy or good to refuse.

Thus, instead of doing their job, instead of bringing assistance and comfort to the sick people who needed them most, instead of helping the mutilated and the handicapped to live, eat, and hope one more day, one more hour, doctors became their executioners.

Where have we heard this before? In the news of the past month or two, perhaps?

In October 1939, several weeks after the beginning of hostilities, Hitler gave the first order concerning the Gnadentod, or “charitable death.” On the 15th of that month, gas was used for the first time to kill “patients” in Poznán, Poland. But similar centers had already been created in Germany three years earlier. Now, psychiatrists and other doctors collaborated in a professional atmosphere exemplary for its camaraderie and efficiency. In less than two years, 70,000 sick people disappeared into the gas chambers. The Gnadentod program was going so well that the head of the Wehrmacht Hospital psychiatric ward, Professor Wurth, worried, “With all the mentally ill being eliminated, who will want to pursue studies in the burgeoning field of psychiatry?” The program was interrupted only when the bishop of Münster, Clemens August Graf von Galen, had the courage to denounce it from his cathedral’s pulpit; protest, in other words, came not from the medical profession, but from the church. Finally, public opinion was moved: too many German families were directly affected.

Now, sometimes the families are complicit — and when religious figures denounce euthenasia, they are told that it’s unconstitutional to consider their opinions. No, they must not “impose their views” on the euthenizers, who must be free to impose their views on those deemed to have insufficient “quality of life.”

Like the fanatical German theorists, Nazi doctors did their work without any crisis of conscience. They were convinced that by helping Hitler to realize his racial ambitions, they were contributing to the salvation of humanity. The eminent Nazi doctor responsible for “ethical” questions, Rudolf Ramm, did not hesitate to declare that “only an honest and moral person may become a good doctor.”

Now every American hospital has an “ethics committee.” Isn’t that reassuring?

Did I meet other doctors? In my barracks at Buna, some of them supervised the division of those permitted to live from those who were to die. I have described elsewhere the silence that preceded this event: it filled our being. We were afraid to look at one another. As on Yom Kippur evening, I had the feeling that the dead were mixed with the living. As for the doctors, I knew not who they were and have forgotten their faces.

Over the succeeding years, as I studied documents and archives about the Final Solution, I became familiar with the dominant role played by Nazi medicine and science. They were integral to the concentration-camp system and were as guilty as the various branches of Hitler’s armed services and police force of the monstrous crimes committed in occupied Europe out of hatred for the Jews and other so-called inferior races and groups. Yet after Germany’s defeat, with rare exceptions, criminal doctors calmly returned home to resume normal practices and ordinary life. No one bothered them at home, nothing threatened them. Only on the occasion of the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem did German justice suddenly remember their crimes. The police found their addresses in telephone books.

Why hide, if you did nothing (recognized as) wrong?

But if an Eichmann shocks us, a Mengele revolts us. Eichmann was a rather ordinary low-life, without education or culture, whereas Mengele spent a number of years at a university. The existence of an Eichmann casts doubt on the nature and mentality of the German people, but the possibility of a Mengele throws into question the very basis of German education and culture. If the former represents Evil at a bureaucratic level, the latter embodies Evil at an intellectual level.

There is actually a quite simple explanation for this. (It’s a maxim of mine, and I should someday write a full-length essay on it.) That is: Academic education makes one an “educated person,” which is not the same as a “good person.” Academic education is not moral education; that is, it does not provide any morality whatsoever.

Of course, the environment in which academic education is delivered can provide moral education, but that can go either way. My daughter attends an Orthodox Jewish school, where students are explicitly taught, and rewarded for, good behavior in their interactions with each other and with teachers. This is in addition to, and distinct from, their learning of reading, mathematics, and other subjects (though not entirely distinct from their learning of religious subjects). On the other hand, it can be argued that the modern American (at least) university provides an environment which is actively detrimental to the moral development of students.

In any case, the environment is separate from the curriculum. There is absolutely no reason to believe that learning mathematics, or engineering, or biology, or medicine will protect someone from becoming a murderer or a thief or a racist. We don’t even need to look to the Nazis to see this; just look at the financial scandals and sexual harassment scandals at our to universities. There is no evidence education makes people moral, and the fact that people continue to believe it in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is completely mystifying.

Eichmann denied having been anti-Semitic and pleaded not guilty: he was only following orders. But the Nazi doctors? None among them acted under duress — neither those who presided over the nocturnal division of new arrivals, nor those who killed the prisoners in their laboratories. They could have slipped away; they could have said no. Until the end, they considered themselves public servants loyal to German politics and science. In other words, patriots, devoted researchers. Without too great a stretch, maybe even societal benefactors. Martyrs.

No doubt some of them did slip away, or say no. Which makes the guilt of those who remained, and thought themselves heros, even less excusable.

Must one conclude that, since a humane science exists, there was also a science that wasn’t humane? I won’t even consider racist theorists who tried to treat racism as an exact science. Their vulgar stupidity deserves nothing but disdain. But there were excellent physicians, well-informed chemists, and great surgeons — all racist. How could they seek truth and happiness for human beings at the same time that they hated some of them solely because they belonged to human communities other than their own?

Science is neither good nor evil. It can be, and has been, used for either.

One of the brutal shocks of my adult life came the day I discovered that many of the officers of the Einsatzgruppen — the death commandos in Eastern Europe — had received degrees from Germany’s best universities. Some held doctorates in literature, others in philosophy, theology, or history. They had spent many years studying, learning the lessons of past generations, yet nothing kept them from killing Jewish children at Babi Yar, in Minsk, Ponàr. Their education provided them with no shield, no shelter from the temptation and seduction of cruelty that people may carry within. Why? This question still haunts me.

Why would you think that a doctoral degree would teach one not to be a murderer? The questions haunts Wiesel, but I don’t even understand it. What is there in a doctoral program in literature that teaches one right from wrong? Theology, maybe — but look what they teach in the madrasses. That’s theology, too.

Yet inside the concentration camps, among the prisoners, medicine remained a noble profession. More or less everywhere, doctors without instruments or medications tried desperately to relieve the suffering and misfortune of their fellow prisoners, sometimes at the price of their own health or their own lives. I knew several such doctors. For them, each human being represented not an abstract idea but a universe with its secrets, its treasures, its sources of anguish, and its poor possibilities for victory, however fleeting, over Death and its disciples. In an inhumane universe, they had remained humane.

When I think about the Nazi doctors, the medical executioners, I lose hope. To find it again, I think about the others, the victim-doctors; I see again their burning gazes, their ashen faces.

Why did some know how to bring honor to humankind, while others renounced humankind with hatred? It is a question of choice. A choice that even now belongs to us — to uniformed soldiers, but even more so to doctors. The killers could have decided not to kill.

Yet these horrors of medical perversion continued beyond Auschwitz. Traces may be found, for example, in the hellish Stalin and post-Stalin eras. Communist doctors betrayed their brethren. Psychiatrists collaborated with the secret police to torture prisoners.

I hope every doctor who reads this article in the New England Journal of Medicine thinks about the questions it raises in light of the increasing acceptance — indeed, advocacy — in the medical profession for euthenasia of the young, the old, and the disabled.

It might be a good thing if some judges read it, too.

Romeo and Juliet

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:51 pm

Life imitates art, which was probably imitating life in the first place.

Family feud erupts after teens date; 6 wounded

Monday, April 11, 2005 Posted: 12:35 PM EDT (1635 GMT)

CRESCENT CITY, Florida (AP) — Members of neighboring families shot at each other, wounding six people, as part of a long-running feud that victims said peaked when a girl from one family began dating a boy from the other one.

Jewish Calendar Trivia

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:14 pm

For those of you who find the rules of the papal election not complicated enough, get a load of this.

Highlights, compiled by the author:

How is this year different from all other years?
?מה-נשתנית השנה הזאת מכל-השנים

Since Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, we have a record 32 consecutive days of no Tachanun, as well as 9 or 10 consecutive Shabbatot without Av HaRachamim (see Section M).

Unique to the “hei-chet-aleph” (החא) year-type, we have no “double parashiyyot” the whole year (even outside of Israel), and we read Acharei Mot on Shabbat Haggadol-Erev Pesach – these events have not happened since 24 years ago (see Section O).

The Jewish holidays and calendar dates fall later in the solar year this year than they do in all other years of the 19-year cycle (see Section Q).

The coming Rosh HaShana (5766) will be the last time before the year 6000 that the rare “dechiyyat BeTU-TaKPaT” (בטו תקפט) occurs, postponing Rosh HaShana from Monday to Tuesday (see Section W).

If you are not Jewish — and maybe even if you are — this will not make a whole lot of sense to you. But I think it’s really cool. For example, I’m trying to think of some lesson to draw from Parshat Acharei Mot coming on Erev Pesach… ;-)

If you are interested — or even if you are not — there is much, much more!

Please Litter! Support Your Groundskeeper!

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:12 pm

Quite often, conservatives claim that some policy advocated by liberals “hurts the very people it’s intended to help.” This is a common claim about minimum wage laws, affirmative action, welfare, and so on. It’s often arguable, but in this one particular case, it’s undeniable.

Professor Bainbridge (UCLA Law School) reports that students are supporting a strike by UCLA groundskeepers with a demonstration, and they are publicizing that demonstration by plastering flyers on the walkways, which those same groundskeepers will have to get down on their knees and clean up, instead of (a) do nothing, or (b) sweep them up while standing or riding a Turf-Vac, like they do with normal litter.

A group of UCLA students plan a student strike tomorrow in support of a one-day strike by UCLA service workers, whose union includes custodians and groundskeepers …

In their zeal, the students have plastered these posters on sidewalks all over campus; e.g., in the sculpture garden …

You will have spotted the irony, of course: the groundskeepers the kids purport to be supporting are the very people who will have to get these glued-down posters off the sidewalks. …

Most of the kids probably don’t have limos yet, since in this town kids with limos tend to go to USC, but they certainly have got the whole limousine liberal mentality down pat.

He also has pictures.

(Hat tip: Eugene Volokh.)

Vatican Security Challenges

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:30 pm

Natasha Bita of The Australian reports on the security arangements for the conclave to determine the next Pope:

Security specialists are sweeping the Vatican for bugs and installing jamming devices to stop any errant cardinals using their mobile phones in the lead-up to next week’s secret papal vote.

Wary of secret service agents, nosey journalists and even greedy gamblers spying on the conclave’s deliberations, the Vatican has hired espionage experts to inspect the Sistine Chapel for hidden microphones and spy cameras.

The security squad will rip open cushions, scrutinise carpets, inspect ventilation shafts and check that pipes, electrical wiring and lights are where they are supposed to be, La Repubblica newspaper reported yesterday.

It said the security experts were worried about laser microphones that can eavesdrop on conversations 400m away by recording vibrations on the windows of the Sistine Chapel.

The 115 cardinals who gather in the chapel on Monday to elect a new leader for the world’s 1.1billion Catholics will be asked to surrender their mobile phones, tape recorders and electronic organisers at the door.

All of this makes sense, in a sense, if they really want to keep the meeting secret, which they obviously do. Of course, there is one really odd contradiction, leading to one (possible) vulnerability, of which there seems to be at least one in every security arrangement these days:

The cardinals will be frisked by guards supervised by the papal chamberlain, Cardinal Eduardo Martinez Somalo of Spain.

La Stampa newspaper reported that the Vatican would use US technology to jam GSM, dual and tri-band mobile phones with an electromagnetic “wall” covering the cardinals’ hotel-style residence of St Martha’s — built between 1992 and 1996 with the succession process in mind — the Sistine Chapel and the 1km road linking them.

And as a cone of silence drops over the Vatican, voting cardinals will be denied access to newspapers, radio and television, while steps will be taken to stop them having chance encounters with cleaning staff.

So, it seems that somebody does not entirely trust the Cardinals not to hide a mobile phone from the guards and then use it anyway. Putting aside any theological issues, keep this in mind for the next point:

The late Pope John Paul II, worried that media analysis of papal candidates would threaten cardinals’ “independent judgment” in the lead-up to their vote, imposed the ban by changing the church constitution in 1996. It bars the use of any technology that can be used to record or transmit voices, images or writin

Apart from the cardinals, the constitution permits within the conclave precinct only enough priests to take confession in any language, two doctors, cleaners and catering staff, and two trusted technicians to sweep for electronic bugs.

Now, I’m not a Catholic, so forgive me if any of this is based on some misunderstanding about Catholic rules, but I see a glaring contradiction here. Suppose we assume that confessions are supposed to be confidential (that’s one of the rules, right?) and that conclave deliberations are supposed to be confidential (that’s clear from the article). In order for this to work, the priests who take confession from the Cardinals have to be completely trusted not to reveal what they say, right? They also have to be trusted not to use the confession as an opportunity to influence the Cardinal who’s confessing, nor to use the confession as an opportunity to pass information between the outside world and the conclave. However, for some reason the Cardinals are obviously not completely trusted not to bring a cell phone into the conclave grounds — and use it — in violation of the rules.

Hence, the contradiction: Why is it that the priests are trusted, but the Cardinals are not trusted?

Are the priests going to be sequestered also? Even if they are, they might still be able to use their position to influence the Cardinals, and if I understand things correctly, no one is supposed to influence them during the conclave. (Catholics, help me out here: is there a reason why the Cardinals can’t just confess before and after the conclave?)

(By the way, it’s probably a good idea to ban cell phones from the premises, even if they trust the Cardinals not to use them. Why? It’s possible that some nefarious person could hide a bug in some Cardinal’s cell phone and eavesdrop on the proceedings. However, this would not require frisking and all that.)

There may also be the problem of making sure no one manages to kidnap a Cardinal and replace him with an imposter who’s not a Cardinal. These guys are from all over the world, and don’t meet together all that often. I wonder how they verify that the person who was recently appointed (and less personally-known to the others) is who he says he is.

Take 2: Remember when the Democrats were against the “Politics of personal destruction”?

Filed under: — Different River @ 12:15 pm

This is very nearly a repeat of this post from yesterday. Apparently, this “illness” is catching.
Kill Bush T-shirt
Remember a few years ago when the Democrats were ranting about accusing their opponents of practicing the “politics of personal destruction”? Bill Clinton used the phrase after his impeachment, Hillary Clinton used it in her book, Richard Gephardt used it, and I think Gore did too but I can’t find a reference offhand.

Yet, now you can buy a T-shirt that seems to imply the Democrats have changed positions on this, and now favor the politics of personal destruction. Yesterday, it was personal self-destruction. Today, it’s assassination.

Note that it is a federal crime to mail this T-shirt, because it is a federal crime to mail anything containing a threat to the president:

United States Code

Section 871. Threats against President and successors to the Presidency

(a) Whoever knowingly and willfully deposits for conveyance in the mail or for a delivery from any post office or by any letter carrier any letter, paper, writing, print, missive, or document containing any threat to take the life of, to kidnap, or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States, the President-elect, the Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President of the United States, or the Vice President-elect, or knowingly and willfully otherwise makes any such threat against the President, President-elect, Vice President or other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President, or Vice President-elect, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.

(b) The terms ”President-elect” and ”Vice President-elect” as used in this section shall mean such persons as are the apparent successful candidates for the offices of President and Vice President, respectively, as ascertained from the results of the general elections held to determine the electors of President and Vice President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 1 and 2. The phrase ”other officer next in the order of succession to the office of President” as used in this section shall mean the person next in the order of succession to act as President in accordance with title 3, United States Code, sections 19 and 20.

Anyone want to bet that no one will be prosecuted for this? Or that there would have been a huge outcry had Republicans sold a “Kill Clinton” T-shirt in 1997?

(Disclaimer: I provide the link to the T-shirt site not because I think you should buy the T-shirt, but so you believe me that it’s for sale.)

(Hat tip: Drudge Report.)

UPDATE (12:35pm): The product seems to have been removed from the web site very recently. Note, by the way, that the website is run by CafePress. This is a company that makes T-shirts and other memorabilia with any design supplied by basically anyone. Basically, you upload your graphic file to their web site, let them take the orders, make the T-shirts (or tote bags, or whatever) and send you a portion of the proceeds. I imagine what happened in both this case and the other one yesterday is that some enterprising Democrat made a graphic file on a computer, uploaded it to the CafePress site, and clicked all the right things to set up the shirts for sale. My guess is no human at CafePress ever saw the design until it showed up on Matt Drudge’s site.

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