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Archived Comments for: Psychiatry during the Nazi era: ethical lessons for the modern professional

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  1. Judgement call

    rich winkel, University of Missouri

    12 May 2007

    This article remarkable for its morally oblivious outlook.

    According to the author, the nazi psychiatrists, who actually

    showed hitler how mass murder could be carried out cheaply and

    efficiently on an industrial scale, were merely guilty of

    "allowing philosophical constructs to define clinical practice,

    focusing exclusively on preventative medicine, allowing political

    pressures to influence practice, blurring the roles of clinicians

    and researchers, and falsely believing that good science and good

    ethics always co-exist."

    Apparently these crimes were errors of clinical and philosophical

    judgement, not symptomatic of any kind of character shortcomings

    or psychopathologies on the part of the psychiatrists.

    That this explanation seems adequate to the author raises the

    question of whether he may be suffering from the same affliction

    as the objects of his study: a lack of what their victims

    might have referred to as a "moral compass" and a need to simulate

    a rough approximation of human empathy and insight by hacking them

    out of some kind of behavioral rule book. The notion of a cold

    blooded mass murderer evaluating philosophical constructs, political

    pressures and clinical strategies in the course of pursuing his

    chosen vocation is certainly not likely to satisfy those seeking

    a deeper understanding of what the hell was wrong with these people.

    The author's silence on the psychological motivations of the

    perpetrators is especially deafening given that it's no secret that

    schools of clinical psychology and psychiatry are magnets for

    emotionally troubled people (Psychology Today, July/August 1997,

    among which are certainly both "classic" and "compensatory"

    narcissists often found in the medical professions.

    Overlooking this fundamental insight puts vulnerable patients at needless risk.

    That this article could be provided to a public audience with an

    invitation to distribute freely is also symptomatic of an amazing

    lack of foresight, not to mention insight, on the part of the

    editors. The blind leading the wounded.

    Competing interests