[asa] Fwd: REVIEW: 'A Medical Professor's Contribution to Nazi Medical Ethics'

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Fri May 08 2009 - 09:15:05 EDT

The work of historian Richard Weikart has sometimes been discussed here, so I am forwarding this review he wrote from another list.


>>> "Nathan Ensmenger, H-SCI-MED-TECH" <smtedit@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU> 5/7/2009 9:15 PM >>>
Martin Mattulat. Medizinethik in historischer Perspektive: Zum
Wandel ärztlicher Moralkonzepte im Werk von Georg Benno Gruber
(1884-1977). Stuttgart Franz Steiner, 2007. 187 pp. EUR 39.00
(cloth), ISBN 978-3-515-08863-3.

Reviewed by Richard Weikart (California State University at
Published on H-German (December, 2008)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher

A Medical Professor's Contribution to Nazi Medical Ethics

This book is a fascinating study of an internationally respected
pathology professor at the University of Göttingen who wrote and
lectured extensively on medical ethics before, during, and after the
National Socialist period. It not only makes a significant
contribution to our understanding of medical ethics under Nazism, but
it also, and perhaps even more importantly, explains how (some)
intellectuals adapted to the National Socialist worldview.

Although Georg Gruber did not support the National Socialist German
Workers' Party before Hitler came to power, he became a member of the
SA in 1933. There, he rose to a high rank, since his superiors
considered him a reliable Nazi comrade. After the war, Gruber was
forced to retire. However, in subsequent de-Nazification procedures,
he deftly extricated himself from his Nazi ties, and was able to
continue lecturing as an emeritus professor.

Gruber's engagement with Nazi ideology, especially in relation to
medical ethics, is instructive. During his medical studies in Munich,
he studied eugenics with the prominent hygiene professor, Max von
Gruber (not a relative). Before and during the National Socialist
period, Georg Gruber enthusiastically supported eugenics and the
collectivist ethic underlying it. After the war, he continued to
support eugenics, but he came to stress individual rights over

Martin Mattulat claims that Gruber's views regarding euthanasia
changed somewhat during the Nazi period, most likely in response to
the Nazi T-4 "euthanasia" program. In books and articles written
before 1939, Gruber was unequivocal in supporting the continued
validity of the Hippocratic Oath and he rejected both abortion and
physician-assisted suicide. However, in a published lecture in 1941,
he abandoned this position, stating that the state had the right "to
extinguish an ill life" that had no value and placed a burden on the
community (p. 125). Mattulat is likely correct that Gruber changed
his position in response to the T-4 program, which circumstantial
evidence suggests he must have known about.

Although Gruber's thinking shared some other tenets of Nazi ideology,
Mattulat reports several episodes from Gruber's life that seem to
suggest that Gruber was not antisemitic. Growing up, he had close
friends who were Jews, and when the National Socialists came to
power, he defended and protected Jews whom he knew (although never by
publicly criticizing the regime). In postwar correspondence with a
Jewish colleague who had emigrated, he blamed the Nazis for their
racial policies.

After the Nazi period, Gruber never came to grips with his own
involvement in the Nazi apparatus. It did not seem to occur to him
that his actions had given the regime respectability and support. He
tried to atone for his involvement by helping Jews. Paradoxically,
however, he also stirred controversy in 1962 by helping a former SS
physician obtain teaching credentials at his university.

Despite Mattulat's excellent scholarship, the book might have offered
more analysis on a few key points. Mattulat does not consider
Gruber's worldview, for instance, as a means of exploring how his
religious and/or philosophical perspectives might have shaped his
medical ethics. Mattulat also never explicitly discusses the nature
of Gruber's own racial ideology or race-thinking.

This solid study provides insight into the way that a prominent
medical professor grappled with Nazism and its aftermath. It shows
how Nazism was able to benefit from ideological currents already
extant in the medical profession, and, in turn, how Nazism influenced
medical ethics.

Citation: Richard Weikart. Review of Mattulat, Martin, _Medizinethik
in historischer Perspektive: Zum Wandel ärztlicher Moralkonzepte im
Werk von Georg Benno Gruber (1884-1977)_. H-German, H-Net Reviews.
December, 2008.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=23457

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons
Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States

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Received on Fri May 8 09:15:35 2009

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