Understanding our World: The continuing impact of the Holocaust
Think. Talk. Question.
Insights Talk
Medical Ethics
Legitimizing the Unthinkable

During the early 20th Century, advocates of eugenics throughout the western world argued that the use of modern medicine and costly welfare programs to keep people with disabilities alive allowed the "unfit" to reproduce and contributed to the "degeneration" of society. Once Hitler took power in Germany 1933, scientists and medical proponents of eugenics legitimized the Nazis' racist ideology and subsequent murderous policies.

We are faced today with many ethical questions about the legitimate uses of medicine and science. During the "Legitimizing the Unthinkable" program, Joan Ringelheim posed the question of "cure" to Harriet McBryde Johnson.

View video of Harriet McBryde Johnson's response to Joan Ringelheim's question.

Johnson's concluding statement -- "Does that make sense?" -- points to the complexity of defining disability, identity, the role of medicine, and the concept of cure in society today. Who should decide what needs a cure?

What is a "disability?"
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Editors
replies: 21
Who should decide what needs a cure?
U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Editors
replies: 19