Opening Symposium

Measured, segregated, annihilated. Scientific racism, eugenics and the essence of de homine perfecto from Paul Broca to Karl Brandt, William Lanne to Suse Feuerstein. 

The scientific endeavours of European and American academics of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries became a central component in the development of global theories of human worthiness and unworthiness. Under National Socialism especially, theory was replaced with practice in the extreme. With the sanction of a totalitarian regime, German scientists, lawyers, doctors and nurses ultimately determined the fate - existence or non-existence - of predefined groups of millions of people. This paper explores this history.

Dr Darren O’Brien is Honorary Senior Research Fellow, School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland; Adjunct Lecturer, The University of Sydney Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery; Chair of the Australian Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies; Director of the Australian Stumbling Stones project and Director, Respiratory and Sleep Sciences, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital. He has been teaching, researching and writing in the field of Holocaust and comparative genocide studies for thirty years.

Beyond Godwin’s law - the importance of the krankenmorde for contemporary bioethics. 

The persecution and attempted elimination of Germans with illness and disabilities was, ultimately, an extreme manifestation of ableism emerging from early 20th Century eugenic and racial discourses. In this presentation, I will attempt to move beyond simplistic pre-theoretical commitments to not repeat “what the Nazis did” (Godwin’s law) and approach present day bioethical quandaries through a more sophisticated understanding of the legacy of the krankenmorde. Applying the theoretical structure of Foucauldian biopolitics/biopower, I will seek to frame current discourses of reproductive rights, disability rights and assisted dying as a means of identifying present day continuities in bioethics with the Nazi project.

Associate Professor Michael Robertson is a Clinical Associate Professor of Mental Health Ethics at Sydney Health Ethics and a visiting Professorial Fellow at the Sydney Jewish Museum. He is an Approved Medical Specialist for the NSW Worker's Compensation Commission. His clinical work is in Occupational Psychiatry and Civil Forensic Psychiatry. He had worked previously in acute adult and community psychiatry for 20 years and had been a previous Head of Department of Psychiatry at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. He has previously coordinated a clinical service for survivors of psychological trauma.