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Vulnerable Ethics: The Role of Lead Psychiatrists in the US Eugenics and Forced Sterilization Movement and the Nazi Holocaust with Dr. Mark Komrad
Hosted by The Columbia Center for Clinical Medical Ethics

In an era when assisted suicide and voluntary euthanasia, even of psychiatric patients, is becoming increasingly practiced, it is important to look at how Psychiatry had lost its ethical moorings in the past, in the face of social pressures and “progressive ideas.” The Eugenics movement in the U.S. (1902-1939), led to forced sterilization of the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled, taking place in some of the major U.S. psychiatric asylums of the time, and promoted by leaders of American Psychiatry. Driven by rapidly changing social mores, led by some of the most celebrated mentors, chairmen, professors, and hospital directors in the U.S., the procedures were carried out exclusively in large state-run psychiatric asylums – primarily in California and North Carolina, but to some extent, in 36 states. The values of these psychiatric thought leaders seemed to them at the time so enlightened and virtuous. They saw themselves as moral pioneers, moving their societies forward ethically. Though taken to the brink of proposing euthanasia for the mentally ill, that further step was left to the notorious T4 program in Nazi Germany, the effort to systematically euthanize mentally ill children and then adults, eventually gassing and cremating over 400,000 of them by 1943.This is where the processes and techniques were developed by trial and error that were later used in the concentration camps for "efficient" mass extermination. Again, the most prominent and influential psychiatrists were key organizers and participants, and did so with relish, pride, and the rewards of career advancement. These are important lessons for psychiatry now, at a time when, in some countries, social pressures have led psychiatrists to euthanize certain suicidal patients on request, who are deemed to have “untreatable” and “insufferable” conditions; once again suggesting that there may be some “lives not worth living."

Nov 15, 2021 06:30 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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