Surgeon had dilemma only Nazi medical text could resolve. Was it ethical to use it?


EXCERPT: . . . But now Mackinnon, one of the country’s most renowned nerve surgeons, was stumped. She couldn’t trace the saphenous nerve and its branches. To figure out where the nerve wends its way between and around and under muscle and connective tissue and free it, she needed to consult the best anatomical maps of peripheral nerves ever created. [...] But soon after this 2014 operation, she began worrying whether she had done the right thing. The meticulous, four-color paintings in the Pernkopf book, which she had received as a gift [...] were created by Viennese medical illustrators who were such ardent Nazis they included swastikas and lightning-bolt SS symbols in their signatures. The drawings were compiled by an Austrian medical school dean who fired all his Jewish professors after the Anschluss (Nazi Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938), and were based in part on the bodies of people executed by the Nazis. The first of the two volumes was published in 1937, the second in 1941.

Knowing the book’s history, which came to light in the mid-1980s, Mackinnon and Yee wondered, is it ethical to use the Pernkopf illustrations? They reached out to some of the nation’s leading historians of Nazi medicine, bioethicists, and experts on Jewish law to discuss whether Mackinnon acted ethically, as they describe in the May issue of the journal Surgery.

[...] The moral dilemma for surgeons is that, even now, the Pernkopf illustrations are unsurpassed in their accuracy and detail, especially their depiction of peripheral nerves. “I hate to say it, but the illustrations are beyond spectacular,” said bioethicist and Rabbi Joseph Polak of Boston University, whom the Washington University team consulted. “They are really world-class.” Other anatomy atlases pale by comparison, Yee said, and although a few journal papers may have an equally good, single illustration, finding the right paper takes time that Mackinnon did not have as she stood over her patient.

[...] Hildebrandt does not use the book in her anatomy lectures, she said, and asks that colleagues who do explain its horrific origins and acknowledge the sacrifice and suffering of the people whose bodies it is based on. But that didn’t provide much guidance to Mackinnon. When she posed the dilemma to Grodin and Polak, they produced what has become a definitive work on when it is morally acceptable to use the Pernkopf and other knowledge rooted in Nazi medicine. “It relates to the old question, can you derive good from evil?” Grodin said.

[...] Scholars not involved in Mackinnon’s case agree. “Not every utilization of Nazi-generated data or information is morally out of bounds,” bioethicist Arthur Caplan of New York University wrote in a commentary on the Surgery paper. “This case makes clear that at least a narrow use of tertiary information — paintings of bodies — is morally defensible. If direct, immediate, and substantial patient benefit is being sought from the use of existing information, and if there is no better resource available, then the demands of beneficence create a presumption of use.”

That does not settle the debate over the Pernkopf atlas, however... (MORE - details)
The moral dilemma in regards to Ethics shouldn't be so much whether such information should be used nowadays, but whether agreeing to using such data is enabling people to attempt to do similar unspeakable acts in the future unethically in the name of Science. The data itself unfortunately is an historic testament to immoral/unethical inhumane acts, and while it should remain attributed to such sufferage it's unfortunately apart of it's history which shouldn't be forgotten or it will likely forever be repeated in similar atrocities.
I agree. As long as its use isn't promoting those practices, it's like not bathing because the Romans did it. Innocuous and useful practices and knowledge are not, themselves, bad by association.
The first question that popped into my head wasn’t whether or not it’s ethical, but why does his 1930’s depictions still contain more details? I mean a lot of people donate their bodies to science, and with our technology, we should have better images by now. Why are we still teaching with such poor quality text books? They’re not cheap. The facility selects the textbooks, right? Ten bucks says that there’s some sort of wining and dining involved with the publishing industry.
Quote:...Knowing the book’s history, which came to light in the mid-1980s, Mackinnon and Yee wondered, is it ethical to use the Pernkopf illustrations? They reached out to some of the nation’s leading historians of Nazi medicine, bioethicists, and experts on Jewish law to discuss whether Mackinnon acted ethically...

There is the matter of a surgeon contractually agreeing to whatever applicable professional code of ethics, so she is potentially caught in a box that demands a standard of robot caliber behavior. But it sounds like this specific case isn't clearly addressed by and subsumed under a broader tenet of such, or she wouldn't be consulting a variety of external authorities to begin with. So given that, the business-like navigation through the snares and mazes of the ordinary world (below) at least partially infringes upon this.

I'd be living in a sod house or worse if I totally severed contact with the prescriptive ideas and policies, long-term results of innovative deeds, effective knowledge, and technological inventions introduced by individuals and groups that were either historically overt or covert bigots, abusers, war crime soldiers never caught/tried/punished, and so-forth kinds of malefactors according to whichever ethical canon waved around by both old and today's replacement bible thumpers. With respect to the latter, if we buy goods originating from sweatshop & quasi-slave labor factories or a polluting and resource-ravaging area, we're likewise participating in evil (beam in thine own eye).

The Good Place touched upon the situation in "The Book of Dougs" episode, wherein Michael realized that the reason no humans were going to the Good Place anymore is because the Modern World had become too interconnected and complicated (unintended consequences). "One Doug gave his grandmother flowers and earned 145 Good Place points, while another Doug did the same thing and actually lost four points. The second Doug used a smartphone made by a kid in China, bought roses raised with pesticides." Oh look, another Doug accidentally putting money into the pockets of an unscrupulous billionaire CEO via subscribing to _X_ services.

So the practical "being bluntly cognizant of how non-ideal everyday life is" person -- in recognizing the futility of the overall situation any direction one goes[*] -- has already dropped out of the super-strict, moral conscience of Robot Ideologue Camp, and just doesn't lose sleep over it. But of course, taking whatever steps (if that's really necessary and at all achievable) to prevent anyone from finding out about using the Nazi product, especially the prowling Inquisition brigades from the quarreling denominations of Social Justice Church.

- - - footnote - - -

[*] Apart from living like a totally self-sufficient Tarzan/Jane in a remote wilderness where poaching is miraculously non-illegal, and any berries, roots, bulbs, seed pods, fruits are open to picking .

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