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January 13, 1989

Race Hygiene and National Efficiency: The Eugenics of Wilhelm Schallmayer

JAMA. 1989;261(2):300-301. doi:10.1001/jama.1989.03420020156054

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The specter of Nazi medicine haunts medical ethics. It challenges discussion of euthanasia, health-care rationing, genetic counseling, sterilization of the mentally disabled, and the limitation of treatment for the severely disabled. This oft-raised apparition dissipates when it is invoked (or seen) as a rhetorical phantom rather than as a peril that could emerge again from the enlightened science of this age. Horror at Nazi medicine's apotheosis has largely diverted scholarship from its antecedents. Troubling questions persist. Nazi leaders claimed that German fascism was "nothing but applied biology." To what extent was medical collaboration with Nazi horrors forced, voluntary, or enthusiastic? Was there an erosion of the medical ethic before fascism that was continuous with the medical abuses that became the hallmark of the Third Reich?

Sheila Weiss' monograph begins with the medical theory of innate degeneracy that was prominent in the late 19th century. This theory held that retardation, criminality,