Primum non nocere is a Latin phrase that means “first, do no harm.
Non-maleficence, which is derived from the maxim, is one of the principal precepts of bioethics that all healthcare students are taught in school and is a fundamental principle throughout the world. But yet a great number of the Nazi physicians ignored this principle. Karl Brandt being one of the worst of them.
Today is the 68th anniversary of his execution.
Karl Brandt was born on the 8 of January 1904. He became a doctor and in August 1933, was summoned to Upper Bavaria to treat Wilhelm Bruckner, Hitler’s adjutant’s, who had been hurt in an automobile accident. Adolf Hitler was so impressed with his work that he invited Dr. Brandt to become his personal physician.
Brandt joined Hitler’s inner circle and was given the rank of major-general in the Waffen-SS. He was also appointed Reich Commissioner for Health and Sanitation.
In 1935 Heinrich Hoffman recommended that Adolf Hitler should be examined by Dr. Theodor Morell. Morell claimed Hitler was suffering from “complete exhaustion of the intestinal system” and recommended treatment of vitamins, hormones, phosphorus, and dextrose.
Brandt warned Hitler he was in danger of being poisoned by these large dosages of drugs and vitamins. Hitler rejected Brandt’s advice and replied: “No one has ever told me precisely what is wrong with me. Morrell’s method of cure is so logical that I have the greatest confidence in him. I shall follow his prescriptions to the letter.” Later he was to remark: “What luck I had to meet Morell. He has saved my life.”
Brandt was responsible for the Law for the Protection of Hereditary Health that was used to introduce compulsory sterilization. In August, 1939 the Reich Committee for the Scientific Registration of Serious Hereditary and Congenially Based Diseases was established.
In the context of the 1933 Nazi law Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses (Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring), he was one of the medical scientists who performed abortions in great numbers on women deemed genetically disordered, mentally or physically handicapped or racially deficient, or whose unborn fetuses were expected to develop such genetic “defects”. These abortions had been legalized, as long as no healthy Aryan fetuses were aborted
On September 1, 1939, Brandt was appointed by Hitler co-head of the T-4 Euthanasia Program, with Philipp Bouhler.
Additional power was afforded Brandt when on July 28, 1942, he was appointed Commissioner of Sanitation and Health (Bevollmächtiger für das Sanitäts und Gesundheitswesen) by Hitler and was thereafter only bound by the Führer’s instructions alone. He received regular promotions in the SS; by April 1944, Brandt was a SS-Gruppenführer in the Allgemeine-SS and a SS-Brigadeführer in the Waffen-SS. On April 16, 1945, he was arrested by the Gestapo for moving his family out of Berlin so they could surrender to American forces. He was condemned to death by a military court and then sent to Kiel.Brandt was released from arrest by order of Karl Dönitz on May 2, 1945. He was later placed under arrest by the British on May 23, 1945.
Brandt’s medical ethics, particularly regarding euthanasia, were influenced by Alfred Hoche, whose courses he attended.
Like many other German doctors of the period, Brandt came to believe that the health of society as a whole should take precedence over that of its individual members. Because society was viewed as an organism that had to be cured, its weakest, most invalid and incurable members were only parts that should be removed. Such hapless creatures should therefore be granted a “merciful death” (Gnadentod).In addition to these considerations, Brandt’s explanation at his trial for his criminal actions – particularly ordering experimentation on human beings – was that “… Any personal code of ethics must give way to the total character of the war”. Historian Horst Freyhofer asserts that, in the absence of at least Brandt’s “tacit” approval, it is highly unlikely that the grotesque and cruel medical experiments for which the Nazi doctors are infamous, could have been performed. Brandt and Hitler discussed multiple killing techniques during the initial planning of the euthanasia program, during which Hitler asked Brandt, “which is the most humane way;” Brandt suggested the use of carbon monoxide gas, whereupon Hitler gave his approval and instructed Brandt to reach out to other physicians and begin to coordinate the mass killings.
The euthanasia programme was known as T-4 and began in autumn 1939. According to Ulf Schmidt, the author of Karl Brandt: The Nazi Doctor, the first person to die as a result of the T-4 programme was Gerhard Kretschmar, a child born on 29th February 1939. Documents show that the parents, who lived in the south-eastern region of Saxony, petitioned Adolf Hitler asking for the child to be “put to sleep”. Brandt claimed “it was a child who was born blind, an idiot – at least it seemed to be an idiot – and it lacked one leg and part of one arm.”
Carbon monoxide gas was selected as the means of death and several asylums were equipped with chambers for this purpose. Between October 1939 and August 1941, T-4 killed over 70,000 people.
“Because God cannot want the sick and ailing to reproduce.” is what it says on the propaganda poster below.
As theSecond World War progressed the euthanasia program was used to exterminate people said to be biologically inferior, such as Jews, Poles, Russians and Gypsies.
Karl Brandt and his wife Anni were members of Hitler’s inner circle at Berchtesgaden where Hitler maintained his private residence known as the Berghof.
This very exclusive group functioned as Hitler’s de facto family circle. It included Eva Braun, Albert Speer, his wife Margarete, Dr. Theodor Morell, Martin Bormann, Hitler’s photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, Hitler’s adjutants and his secretaries. Brandt and Hitler’s chief architect Albert Speer were good friends as the two shared technocratic dispositions about their work. Brandt looked at killing “useless eaters” and the handicapped as a means to an end, namely since it was in the interest of public health. Similarly, Speer viewed the use of concentration camp labor for his defense and building projects in much the same way.As members of this inner circle, the Brandts had a residence near the Berghof and spent extensive time there when Hitler was present. In his memoirs, Speer described the numbing lifestyle of Hitler’s inner circle, forced to stay up most of the night listening to the insomniac Nazi leader’s repetitive monologues or to an unvarying selection of music. Despite Brandt’s closeness to Hitler, the dictator was furious when he learned On 16th April, 1945 the doctor had sent Anni and their son toward the American lines in hopes of evading capture by the Russians.
Only the intervention of Heinrich Himmler, Albert Speer, and the direct order of Admiral Doenitz after Brandt had been captured by the Gestapo and sent to Kiel in the war’s closing days, saved him from execution by the Nazi’s.
Brandt was one of the defendants in the trial of 23 SS physicians and scientists that began at Nuremberg on 9th December, 1946.The Doctor’s trial.
In court he was asked why he followed instructions to carry out medical experiments on patients. Brandt argued: “Would you believe that it was a pleasure to me to receive the order to start euthanasia? For fifteen years I had laboured at the sick-bed and every patient was to me like a brother, every sick child I worried about as if it had been my own. And then that hard fate hit me. Is that guilt? Was it not my first thought to limit the scope of euthanasia?… With the deepest devotion I have tortured myself again and again, but no philosophy and no other wisdom helped here. There was the decree and on it there was my name. I do not say that I could have feigned sickness. I do not live this life of mine in order to evade fate if I meet it. And thus I affirmed Euthanasia. I realise the problem is as old as man, but it is not a crime against man nor against humanity. Here I cannot believe like a clergyman or think as a Jurist. I am a doctor and I see the law of nature as being the law of reason. From that grew in my heart the love of man and it stands before my conscience.” The court was unimpressed and Brandt was sentenced to death.
With six others, he was sentenced to death by hanging, and all were executed at Landsberg Prison on June 2, 1948.
Nine other defendants received prison terms of between fifteen years and life, while a further seven were found not guilty.