October 20, 2015

While much of contemporary medical ethics has been defined by the history of physician involvement in the Holocaust, a recent national study showed that many medical students still learn  little about it.

But thanks to local physician Dr. William Silvers that may soon change for students in Colorado.

Silvers has pledged $100,000 to the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus for programs exploring the role of health professionals in the Holocaust which killed more than six million Jews.

Wynia Matthew, MD
Wynia Matthew, MD

“Although teaching on ethics and professionalism is required at all medical schools, students need to understand the specific role physicians played in the Holocaust and how this informs modern debates,” said Dr. Matthew Wynia, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities at CU Anschutz.

“When we think about medicine and the Holocaust, we usually think of unethical research, forced sterilization and euthanasia of disabled individuals. But  medical professionals also provided the basic justifications for mass killings as public health measures, and doctors  helped carry out and refine the killing techniques used in death camps.”

A 2013 survey of U.S. and Canadian Medical schools found that just 22 of 140 (16%) required any course work on the roles of physicians in the Holocaust.

“The Holocaust, and how health professionals helped plan and carry it out, is of more than historical importance,” Dr. Silvers said. “Today’s ethical standards related to research, patient advocacy and public health cannot be fully understood without first knowing how medical professionals behaved before and during the Holocaust. It is also critical in helping future physicians understand their own responsibilities.”

The Center for Bioethics and Humanities expects to start the program in spring 2016.

About the Center for Bioethics and Humanities: The Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the University of Colorado Anschutz, engages today’s and tomorrow’s health professionals and the community in substantive, interdisciplinary dialogue about the ethical issues surrounding contemporary healthcare.

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