ST. LOUIS -- A Saint Louis University obstetrician born in a concentration camp is adding medical ethics lessons from the Holocaust to what he teaches future doctors.
SLUCare obstetrician Raul Artal, M.D., will present lectures to medical school students and doctors about the Holocaust. Photo by Riya Anandwala
Raul Artal, M.D., chair of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and women's health at SLU, has become a "Champion" for the Center for Medicine after the Holocaust, an international organization based in Houston that explores how Nazi doctors wholly disregarded the Hippocratic oath and committed egregious atrocities against innocent victims. The Association of American Medical Colleges suggested Artal for the position.
Artal is among about 60 international scholars selected to be Champions for center who give guest lectures at medical schools around the world and write on how lessons from the Holocaust apply to ethical questions that physicians grapple with today. He says he is involved in the program to prevent the brutality of Nazi doctors from ever again occurring.
"Where do you draw the line in ethics in medicine? It's unbelievable how educated people, the best physicians in the world prior to World War II, participated in committing heinous criminal acts under the guise of science and medicine, and with total disregard to human rights," said Artal, a SLUCare obstetrician who specializes in high risk pregnancy.
"I will be teaching about medicine during the Holocaust, how healers became killers and how to apply this knowledge to today's practice. The fact that someone is a physician doesn't mean they have a right to be God and decide who lives and who dies."
Technological advancements have made the practice of medicine more complicated than ever. For instance, today's scientists and health care providers around the world must balance moral questions around genetic engineering and biological determinism, helping those who are critically ill navigate end-of-life issues and conducting research aimed at benefiting all of society while placing a premium on the value of each individual human life.
These are difficult questions must be examined through the lens that every life is precious, Artal said.
That perspective was lost on physicians in Nazi Germany, who invoked the early 20th century science of eugenics to justify cruel and inhumane medical experiments, forced sterilization, "euthenasia" and the ultimate extermination of millions of lives they deemed undesirable.
Many doctors and medical students are unaware of the role physicians played in the Holocaust and Artal says their involvement is an important reminder to doctors that in some circumstances doctors may believe they are doing good when they actually are doing harm. Earlier this year, he attended a Center for Medicine after the Holocaust planning meeting for the First International Scholars Workshop on Medicine after the Holocaust in Houston in March 2015 and a trip to the relevant medical sites in Austria and Poland in April 2015. Artal retires from Saint Louis University on June 30.
Read about the impact the Holocaust had on Artal.