When doing wrong was doing right, and why the impossible became the possible

University of Dundee, Fife, Scotland

‘I have done nothing wrong, you can ask the patients’ (Heinrich Ruoff, Chief Male Nurse at Hadamar Asylum).

The nurses were happy to participate in the factory-style executions that occurred under the Nazi euthanasia policy at places like Hadamar, a psychiatric hospital. These nurses were either committed to what they thought was a correct procedure, or believed they had to obey the orders of others at all costs.

This paper will interpret these actions in relation to ethical principles, the influence of concepts of obedience which prevailed at the time, and the dehumanising of the Nazi propaganda machine. It will attempt to explain why some nurses crossed the boundary of conscience which changed their occupation from that of compassionate carer to that of active killer, and relate the history to current ethical dilemmas in nursing practice.

Symposium II: Euthanasia and Nazi Neuroscience
Friday, 8 July 2005, 1.30 - 3.00 pm

Tenth Annual Meeting of the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN) and
Tenth Meeting of the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN)

St. Andrews, Scotland, 2005