Nazi medicine as perceived by Austrian medical students
Background: Austrian medical universities have not covered the topic of Nazi medicine in their curricula to any satisfactory degree to date. In the context of medical-ethical education and on-going medical ethics debates, it seems indispensable to be confronted also with the dark chapters of medical history, and especially Nazi medicine. Students should learn to understand controversial discussions, e.g. about euthanasia, in a historical context. The purpose of this study was to investigate whether students had, during their studies, been confronted with Nazi medical crime and whether they considered such a confrontation as important. The survey also focused on extant knowledge about this topic.
Methods: From late 2012 to May 2013, 341 late semester students of the medical universities in Vienna, Graz, and Innsbruck were questioned about the coverage of Nazi medicine during their courses, using multiple choice questionnaires. The data were evaluated using a descriptive-statistical approach.
Results: The study has shown a low level of knowledge of students about Nazi medicine in the three universities. Only a third of the students had ever heard about “Aktion T4”. About 65% of the participants found it important to be comprehensively informed about Nazi medicine during their studies, e.g. with a view to their future career. On average across the three universities, only 43% of the students had been confronted with this topic.
Conclusion: The study found a clear wish for more information about Nazi medicine. Universities should, therefore, offer students various opportunities and ways of discussing this issue in the university context.