Discussion following the recent memorial service for Nazi victims raised two questions: who was the US physician at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi doctors; how did he link the euthanasia movement with their crimes?  M.J.S.  Ottawa

Dr. Leo Alexander, psychiatrist of Tufts Medical School, was the U.S. expert who drafted the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics used in the trial of Nazi doctors.  In 1949 he wrote a landmark article, “Medical Science under Dictatorship” which has been quoted widely.  He wrote: “Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they started from small beginnings.  The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians.  It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as a life not worthy to be lived.”

Severely retarded children were the first to be killed.  Then came the insane, the chronically ill elderly, the terminally ill, the “socially unacceptable” e.g. Gypsies, and finally the Jews.

Dr. Alexander was deeply concerned by changing ethics in the U.S. medical profession.  He asked whether “American physicians have also been infected with…cold-blooded, utilitarian philosophy and whether early traces of it can be detected in their medical thinking that may make them vulnerable to departures of the type that occurred in Germany.”  Dr. Alexander felt that “in an increasingly utilitarian society those patients [with chronic or incurable diseases] are being looked down upon with increasing definiteness as unwanted ballast.”

Leo Alexander saw a need to protect the vulnerable in the USA, and put his trust in voluntary associations that would stand between the individual at risk and the state.  Today, as for example in the Netherlands, the protection needed is from the physician who has changed his role from healer to killer.

Recently, I have come across references to a medical conference in Sonoma which apparently supported infanticide and euthanasia.  What was said at Sonoma, when, and by whom?  D.K. London, ON.

The Sonoma Conference on Ethical Issues took place in 1975, in the United States.  Twenty of the participants who formed a panel were asked a number of questions.  They came from many disciplines: pediatricians, nurses, psychologists, attorneys, bioethicists, and social workers.  One question asked of the panel was: “Would it ever be right to interfere directly to kill a self-sustaining infant?”

It is important to note two points: firstly, what was in question was not passive euthanasia, but an act of positive killing; secondly, the question was about a “Self-sustaining infant.”  The infant at risk was not one whose vital processes were being maintained by e.g. a respirator.  The panel’s response shocked the world: seventeen of the twenty answered that it would be right to kill, quite deliberately, some children; two of the panel said it would be wrong, and one member was not sure.  The best account of this conference, is in Dr. Paul Ramsey’s work “Ethics at the Edges of Life.”

Dr. Everett Koop noted that the Pediatric News, in its report on the Sonoma Conference, said that “the state of medical ethics in this area is not yet settled.”  Dr. Koop replied that this attitude leads to a slide down the slippery slope.  “Ethics are relative, and change; morals are absolute, and do not.”

Are there any factors which will explain why some women are more seriously affected psychologically than others following an abortion?  L.W. London

The information in this answer comes from Britain in “A Report by the Commission on Inquiry into the Operation and Consequences of The Abortion Act” published June 1994.  A number of factors predispose an individual woman to suffer psychologically after an abortion.  These may include:

  • the age of the woman, as younger women are more likely to suffer
  • previous pregnancies
  • a previous history of depressive or psychiatric illness
  • ambivalence towards abortion
  • abortion done for genetic reasons or because of foetal handicap
  • disapproval for socio-cultural reasons or/and a religious background.

One prime candidate for psychological harm would seem to be a young girl, with religious values, who does not really want an abortion but who is afraid of her pregnancy being known, and who is “counseled” into having an abortion by her “friends,” parents, teachers, public health nurses, or the local abortionist.