“It is often said that bioethics emerged out of the ashes of the Holocaust, as a reactive response to the abrogation of ethics and the abuse of power on the part of the medical profession,” so begins the program description of “Medicine and Morality” – a Holocaust Remembrance Day symposium.
On April 7, the International March of the Living, together with the Maimonides Institute for Medicine, Ethics and the Holocaust and other partners will examine lessons from the Holocaust and COVID-19.
Top speakers, including National Institutes of Health’s Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, will compare one of the darkest periods in the history of medicine with the unprecedented challenges faced by doctors and scientists during the pandemic. They will also grapple with how the lessons of the Holocaust have informed the current situation and efforts to treat sick patients in the most ethical manner possible.
Fauci will also receive the “Moral Courage in Medicine” award.
“It is almost a kind of redemption story,” Stacy Gallin, founder and director of the Maimonides Institute, told The Jerusalem Post. “If you look at the Holocaust, it represents one of the darkest periods in the history of medicine. And if you look at the past year with the global pandemic, I will say it represents medicine at its best. How do you get from one place to the other?”
The novel coronavirus was, as its name describes, new. It therefore challenged doctors to find new treatments or to test traditional treatments on a new indication.
Coronavirus commissioner Prof. Nachman Ash said that there was a lot of desire to develop these drugs and treatments, but even in times of crisis “developing medicine is based on ethical considerations. The Holocaust showed us the need to work within an organized system and not to run ahead and use treatments without proper protocol.”
Ash is personally connected to the Shoah. His father survived Auschwitz, where much of his extended family perished. During his military service he brought missions of young soldiers to Poland to learn about the Holocaust and medicine, the doctors who took part in medical experiments on Jews and those that chose a more ethical path. The missions also discussed Jewish medical ethics and the Jewish doctors who lived and died during the Holocaust, who sometimes performed experiments themselves or were asked to perform medical examinations to determine who should live and who should die in the work camps.
Vera Kriegel Grossman, who will take part in the Virtual March of the Living the day after the symposium, was one of the people “imprisoned like chickens” by Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.
“Two hundred people in a shack that was designed for 28 horses. There was straw on the floor, a bucket for needs in the corner, no entry or exit was allowed, and we were left there for two months. Like animals, we were all naked and got shots in our backs, which made us vomit, gave us a fever and other symptoms,” Grossman wrote ahead of the event.
She said that Mengele was obsessed with changing the color of his patients’ eyes from brown to blue.
“When I entered his lab, there were eyes hanging on a board in every color. At one point I could not bear it anymore and fainted,” she recalled. “The next thing I remember was that I was lying on a stone surface and a substance was dripped into my eyes. I did not know then, but today I know that when babies were born in Auschwitz, and they usually had bright eyes, they drew fluid from their eyes and that is what was dripped into ours.”
She said that she fought hard to “not let Mengele get under my skin” and that “even though I lived among this death, I always had a glimmer of hope in my heart.”
With COVID-19, the Holocaust came to Ash’s doorstep.
“There were protests, even against me, where people held signs in front of my door that said, ‘Are you familiar with the Nuremberg Code?’ in connection to the vaccines. They claimed our vaccination campaign was an experiment on humans,” Ash told the Post. “It was very hurtful to me. Of course, there is no connection. We are not doing experiments on people with the vaccines. The opposite is true: Because of Nuremberg we have the ability to do human trials, to respect people’s rights, and the vaccines were developed and reviewed according to those ethical standards.”
Dr. Susan Miller is the John S. Dunn Chair in General Internal Medicine in the Department of Medicine and Houston Methodist in Texas. Her research focuses on issues related to clinical ethics, death and dying and she has been a consultant, co-investigator, and principal investigator on numerous industry-sponsored clinical trials and National Institutes of Health funded research.
For the past seven years, she has specifically been looking at medical research misconduct in the Holocaust because she said it “made me ask myself how I would behave if I was a doctor in Germany during that time. It helps me teach my residents to look at medicine from more than one perspective.”
During COVID-19, she helped oversee decisions about which medicines and modalities to try on patients at her hospital. The teams she worked with convened several times per week and reviewed potential protocols. A clinical algorithm task force met, as well, and collected and then examined the data to see what adverse effects patients might be having or if something was working well.
“We turned down more than we approved,” she said.
“All of our processes, at the end of the day, were to help the patient,” she continued. “Whether that involved them getting a standard of care or potentially participating in a research study, the bottom line was that we wanted them to get better… I am really proud of what our institution accomplished.”