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When science embraces evil

In last week’s article, the point was made that at various times in the past, human beings have been used as medical guinea pigs in order to further scientific discovery.

Of the thousands of years of human history, one of the most shocking periods was The Holocaust. Although the starvation and murder of millions of people is well reported, people do forget that there were also medical atrocities committed against the Jews. The Holocaust Museum website says, “At the German concentration camps of Sachsenhausen, Dachau, Natzweiler, Buchenwald and Neuengamme, scientists used camp inmates to test immunisation compounds and antibodies for the prevention and treatment of contagious diseases, including malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever and infectious hepatitis.”

The beginning of the Nazi regime was not the catalyst for these experiments. Sadly, many German physicians and scientists supported racial hygiene ideas before the Nazi rise to power. It was just that from 1933 on, they embraced the new regime’s emphasis on biology and heredity, the new career opportunities and the additional funding for research. During the period the Nazis were in power, experiments centred around three topics: survival of military personnel, the advancement of Nazi racial and ideological goals and the testing of drugs and treatments.

The experiments dealing with the survival of military personnel involved exposing prisoners to high-altitude experiments (to determine the maximum altitude from which crews of damaged aircraft could parachute to safety), experiments with severe cold (to source an effective treatment for hypothermia) and testing various methods of making seawater drinkable. Other prisoners were exposed to phosgene and mustard gas in order to test possible antidotes.

What was most shocking from the period was that physicians, geneticists, psychiatrists and anthropologists all felt the sense of legitimacy because of the racial policies of the ruling government, all underpinned by the application in science of the Darwinian concepts of evolution. Germany wasn’t the only nation interested in eugenics. The ideas found receptive audiences in Brazil, France, Great Britain and the United States. However, when Germany saw the intersection of eugenics and the Nazi worldview that espoused both German racial superiority and militaristic ultranationalism, the nation was led down a very dark path which spilled the innocent blood of millions of people.

And herein lies the essence of what I attempted to convey in the recent sermon “Men and their gods”. German physicians saw science as salvation. Proponents of eugenics offered biological solutions to social problems to societies experiencing urbanisation and industrialisation. But this led to the classification of individuals (using metrics such as family genealogies, physical measurements and intelligence tests) from “superior” to “inferior”. In fact, Hitler deputy Rudolf Hess referred to Nazism as “applied biology”.

There are frightening similarities between our age and the rise of Nazism. Hitler’s dictatorship, backed by sweeping police powers, silenced critics of Nazi eugenics and supporters of individual rights. After all educational and cultural institutions and the media came under Nazi control, racial eugenics permeated German society and institutions. Jews were then purged from universities, scientific research institutes, hospitals and public health care. Persons in high positions who were viewed as politically “unreliable” met a similar fate. Although the rise of cultural Marxism may not lead to the deaths of millions of people, its ideology is not dissimilar to what Hitler espoused. And that is why so many voices are loudly opposed to the rise of cultural Marxism in our nation.

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