Israeli doctors call for ban on calling condition by name of Nazi physician

Doctors: Replace name for 'Reiter's Syndrome' - named after Nazi physician.

nazi doc  (photo credit: Courtesy )
nazi doc
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Haifa doctors are urging their colleagues around the country to replace the name for the medical condition Reiter's Syndrome - named for a Nazi physician who was responsible for involuntary sterilization, euthanasia and criminal research projects involving Jews and others for the German Health Administration during World War II - with the term "reactive arthritis." Drs. Yoav Keynan and Doron Rimar of the internal medicine department of Carmel Medical Center and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology Medical Faculty write in the latest issue of the Israel Medical Association Journal (IMAJ) that most medical textbooks continue to use the eponym to describe the syndrome, which combines arthritis, inflammation of the urethra and conjunctivitis in the eye. The syndrome was probably recognized as far back as the time of Hippocrates and described by British Jewish surgeon Sir Benjamin Brodie in an 1818 book describing the symptoms in five patients, the IMAJ article maintained. But after Reiter published an article on the disease in a 1916 issue of the German Medical Weekly - in which he mistakenly attributed the disease to an infection transmitted by biting flies or mosquitoes - the syndrome was named for him and achieved popularity. In fact, the disease is triggered by a preceding infection, the most common of which would be a genital infection of Chlamydia trachomatis and others caused by various bacterial infections or food poisoning. "We hold that the continued use of the eponym Reiter's Syndrome in medical textbooks, medical schools and computerized patients‚ files in Israel is honoring an abomination and inconsistent with medical principles," they wrote. In an editorial in the same issue, Dr. Itzhak Rosner of the Bnei Zion Medical Center's rheumatology unit urged not only that the Nazi doctor's name be expunged by Israeli medical institutes, but that Israeli "representatives in international medical forums act in this regard so as to universalize this professional issue." Dr. Hans Conrad Julius Reiter was born in 1881 in Reudnitz near Hessen and received his medical degree in Leipzig in 1906. A political man and an enthusiastic supporter of the Nazi regime, he boosted his career in 1932 by signing an oath of allegiance to Adolf Hitler. He joined the Nazi Party in 1931 and was appointed director of the department of health in 1933 and subsequently president of the German health ministry. Reiter was ministerially responsible for "euthanasia" and sterilization programs that victimized hundreds of thousands of Jews and others during the Holocaust. He also helped design one of 60 overtly criminal research projects, including the vaccination of inmates at the Buchenwald concentration camp with typhus, causing hundreds of deaths. Charges against Reiter were investigated during the Nuremberg Trials, and he was interned for a while at a US prisoner of war camp, but after his release, Reiter went back to work in the field of medicine and research in rheumatology and died in 1969, at the age of 88, at his country estate near Hessen. In 1977, appalled by his war crimes, a group of doctors began a campaign for the term Reiter's Syndrome to be abandoned and renamed "reactive arthritis." The new IMAJ study found that while many Israeli journals and text books had eliminated the eponym, it still appeared in publications, 13 of 14 relevant medical textbooks and hospital patient files - and is still used by half of the four medical schools here. "It should be deleted from medical publications, mostly on moral grounds. It is a reminder of a physician who was a member of the Nazi Party, misused his medical profession and was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of concentration camp inmates," Keynan and Rimar write. Rosner's editorial concludes: "In the Jewish tradition, the worst curse one can impose on an individual is to have his name erased and expunged from memory - and so should be done with Hans Reiter. Amen."