DALLAS — Misericordia University students studying subjects within the health sciences and humanities and their faculty stood up and took a pledge Monday evening to “uphold the values of dignity, equality and justice within health care.”
The pledge was part of the “Commitment to Preserve Human Dignity in Health Care” program sponsored by the university’s Center on Human Dignity in Bioethics, Medicine, and Health.
“With this pledge, you choose to speak out,” Center Director Stacy Gallin said enthusiastically while addressing the audience.
Gallin said the purpose of the program is to launch an international movement to preserve the dignity of patients in health care. “Hopefully, this a moment that everyone in this room will remember for a long time, and this will be the beginning of something really special,” she said.
The center created an online pledge earlier this month, and so far more than 350 people from 18 states and the District of Columbia, nine different countries and various college and university-affiliated organizations around the world have signed it.
The highlight of the event was a talk on medical practices during the Holocaust by keynote speaker Dr. Tessa Chelouche, director of primary care medical practices at Tel Aviv University in Israel. The program was timed to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jan. 27.
Chelouche started the presentation by showing a black-and-white photo of 20 children ranging in age from 6 to 12 who were liberated from Auschwitz after German doctors performed experiments on them.
Before getting into the topic of how and why German doctors who were supposed to serve patients performed these “barbaric” experiments, Chelouche spoke about the world Eugenics movement prior to World War II and how it influenced the practices of German medical professionals during the Holocaust.
Eugenics was seen as a way to improve the qualities of a human population by discouraging reproduction by people with genetic defects or inheritable undesirable traits and often included sterilizing people against their will. During the time in Germany, Eugenics was known as racial hygiene.
Chelouche said Adolf Hitler appealed to his country’s Nationalist Socialist doctors at his rallies. “He needed the medical profession behind his politics, and the medical profession did not fail him.”
Fifty percent of Germany’s doctors were also members of the Nazi party. “Doctors were now to be loyal to the state,” she emphasized.
Chelouche showed photographs of some of the hundreds of medical institutions in Germany and Austria, where an estimated 200,000 adults and 5,000 children were murdered by being given overdoses of drugs used in psychiatric hospitals, being starved to death, sent to gas chambers and being used as subjects of human experiments.
She said the world’s medical community was silent on these atrocities after the war.
“It was uncomfortable to talk about physicians in the context of Nazi physicians,” Chelouche noted. “It was comfortable to think it was a group of a few crazy psychotic doctors who were only a handful who did what they did.”
Even though these were all things that happened decades ago, she emphasized it is important for medical professionals and those interested in working in the field to be aware of the role Nazi doctors played in World War II so that history doesn’t repeat itself in this case.
“This is our past and we should learn it in order to protect our own personal professional dignity and addition the dignity of those we are going to care for in our future profession,” Chelouche said.
A candle-lighting ceremony was also held to remember the victims of medical abuse throughout history.