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A long shadow: Nazi doctors, moral vulnerability and contemporary medical culture
  1. Alessandra Colaianni
  1. Correspondence to Alessandra Colaianni, School of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, 9 N Montford Avenue, Baltimore, MA 21224, USA; ccolaia1{at}


More than 7% of all German physicians became members of the Nazi SS during World War II, compared with less than 1% of the general population. In so doing, these doctors willingly participated in genocide, something that should have been antithetical to the values of their chosen profession. The participation of physicians in torture and murder both before and after World War II is a disturbing legacy seldom discussed in medical school, and underrecognised in contemporary medicine. Is there something inherent in being a physician that promotes a transition from healer to murderer? With this historical background in mind, the author, a medical student, defines and reflects upon moral vulnerabilities still endemic to contemporary medical culture.

  • Education
  • eugenics
  • euthanasia
  • history of health ethics/bioethics
  • torture and genocide

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  • Funding This work was supported by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics programme.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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