My heart is broken.
I'm not in pain.
Unlike many others versed in heartbreak, I've always thought it odd when people spoke of it as connected to sorrow, to feeling of any kind.
When something breaks, it also empties.
I knew that my course in International Health Law and Bioethics was going to be challenging. I even knew that it would be so on a personal level.
I knew already, when the professor told us we would have a section on Nazi doctors, some of what I would see- after all, as Professor Beres once told me, I majored in atrocity: laws of war, crimes of war, crimes against humanity. I've studied them all, spoken to Holocaust survivors.
But I didn't know that it was doctors whose ideology drove the Nazi regime. That practicing physicians who espoused eugenics inspired Hitler's madness.
That the largest group in the SS- 40%- was doctors.
I have seen pictures, before, of what was done. Heaps of bodies. Rows of corpses so emaciated they didn't look human at first glance. Crematoriums belching unending gouts of oily, obscene smoke to a sullen, black-smeared sky.
But this- torture and mutilation and laceration and maiming inflicted carefully, deliberately, repeatedly.
Rather than on the anonymous jumble of limbs and features of people entering a gas chamber, on a person on a table with her face clear before them as they destroyed her and only her.
Only one human being before them as they cut, injected, disfigured, brutalized.
They pursued "the advancement of science". They believed in science. Used it. Used other human beings without thought or compunction to feed the filthy maw of their ambitions, to pursue a profane betterment that sanitized those they sought to improve into fresh and perfect monsters, leaving under a healthy shell a putrid core of the corruption on which its outward appearance was built...
They were doctors. Doctors. They took the Oath to do no harm.
Did they feel, on entering medicine, as I feel? That this was the best way they could serve the human race? Did they love the sciences they studied, take fire with eagerness at the intricacy, the delicacy, the unimaginable wonder of it all...?
No. No. Even if they did it is different. We are different. This way lies madness.
They served the good of "society", not of their patients. When a Polish inmate, a doctor and freedom fighter, asked one of the doctors how they could do this to a patient, he answered that they were "preserving the health of society" by cutting out its infectious parts.
They served "society". Not their prisoners, their victims, their patients.
I am not like them. We are not like them. We must not be like them. We cannot allow this to happen. Ever. Ever. Even now this wound will never heal, the scar never harden, the stain never wash out of our profession.
And to prevent more like it, we must remind ourselves of what it is that people who shared it did.
Because we could. We could be like them. We could so easily act for the good of "society".
Reporting our patients to law enforcement for medical conditions. Influencing the patient into refusing or administering the treatments we choose, rather than giving them full choice. Glossing over the "informed" part of "informed consent".
And I have to know this contamination. Know it, gaze it in the eye, see it to its fullest extent: take in the full horror before me.
Take it in and make that terror, that unutterable destruction, a part of me.
Because it is true.
Because it happened. Because I have to know. And because in knowing, I cannot refuse the consequences and responsibilities of knowledge.
Because it must never happen again.
My head hurts. My body hurts.
But my heart? No. Still numb.
I can almost see sparks winking off the edges of splintered pieces, surrounded by the fluid thought and feeling once contained. Glinting in the light.
I have had pieces broken before. Repair is a skill that improves with practice.
And so I will mend this too.
In time. In time.
7/30/2007 at 05:26
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