Confronting medical mass murder : the U.S. and West German euthanasia trials, 1945-1965 / by Michael S. Bryant.
The dissertation examines how health care officials involved in the Nazi euthanasia program during World War 11 were judged by U.S. and western German criminal courts in the 20 years following the war. The primary focus is on judicial conceptions of the Nazi euthanasia program: how these conceptions were formed, what they were, and how they affected the administration of justice in U.S. and West German courtrooms. The dissertation draws upon a variety of methods in its analysis of the euthanasia trials, including political, legal, cultural, and psychological history. Ultimately, the study finds that “non-legal” factors (e.g., politics, international events, and psychological needs), rather than neutral legal science, structured both the American and West German verdicts. Analysis of the trial records reveals the profound impact of such forces on the outcome of the trials. A second focus of the dissertation concerns two issues—the modernity of Nazi genocide and the perpetrators' awareness of wrongdoing. The dissertation considers whether Nazi genocide was driven primarily by “modern” concerns or by a hierarchy of biological value, arguing that the creed of racial and biological worth was the motive force behind Nazi killing projects. It goes on, however, to affirm a connection between modernity and Nazi genocide, consisting in the ends-means rationality of the middle-tier bureaucratic killers. Although Nazi leaders were not motivated by modern concerns, their efforts to create an identity through the destruction of human life was a response to an unstable sense of self, a hallmark of the modern experience. Hence, the dissertation concludes that the events chronicled in the postwar euthanasia trials are relevant to the post-modern age. Finally, the study argues that many perpetrators prosecuted after the war were conscious that the mass killing of patients was both morally and legally wrong, but they nonetheless collaborated in the program. It is suggested that the division of the Nazi state into two domains of authority, the normative and the extranormative, may have contributed to their collaboration.
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