Fall 2012 - Undergraduate Course Descriptions

Pfister, Debra
Discipline and Number
HIST 4344 Section 501
W Time 7:00 PM - 9:45 PM
Course Title
Holocaust and Nazi Medicine

Description of Course:

Beginning in 1934, under Nazi leadership, German physicians and scientists conducted some of the most gruesome medical experiments known to humankind. Initially conceived as a way to control national expenditures for the physically handicapped and mentally impaired, early sterilization programs were eventually replaced by euthanasia which served the Nazi program of eliminating “lives unworthy of life” from their population. In their attempt to build a genetically superior race, doctors, in service of the Reich, used human beings a guinea pigs, preying on the most innocent. Examining these unethical medical practices, this course will explore the path that took German medicine from being at the forefront of the modern medical profession in the 19th century to the horrors that were committed in the name of medical science during the Holocaust.

During the course of this analysis, we will discuss the relevant political and social issues of 19th and 20th century Germany, as well as the development of the eugenics movement and its ethical ramifications. In addition, we will examine the inhumane medical experiments conducted on countless innocent men, women, and children, as well as the 1946 Doctors’ Trials in Nuremberg in which twenty three doctors were tried for their roles in those atrocities. The Nuremberg Code, a set of ethical guidelines regarding human medical experimentation, was developed as a result of these proceedings with the hope of preventing such atrocities in the future.

The previously stellar reputation of German medicine has motivated some researchers to want use the data collected despite the unethical methods by which these experiments were conducted. This is a very controversial topic and has been the subject of much dispute within the medical and academic worlds. This class will participate in this debate, and discuss the ethical ramifications that are associated with the use of this data.

Required Texts:


Course Requirements/Evaluation Criteria:

Grades will be based on class attendance (15%); participation in class discussions (10%); participation in a group presentation covering an article provided in class by the instructor (5%); 3 page analysis of group presentation article (15%); one test (20%); one 5-7 page research paper (instructions will be handed out in class) (15%); and one final (20%).

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