The Legacy of Nazi Medicine in Contemporary Mental Health Ethics

Department for Medical Ethics and History of Medicine

Comparing three decades of debates in Germany and Israel, 1990-2020

Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz, Göttingen, Germany sschick(at)
Prof. Dr. Nadav Davidovitch, Be'er-Sheva, Israel nadavd(at)
Dr. Rakefet Zalashik, Be'er-Sheva, Israel rakez(at)
Karina Korecky, M.A., Göttingen, Germany karina.korecky(at)

Associated scholars
Dr. Limor Malul, Zefat, Israel limor.mlr(at)
Dr. Tobias Weidner, Göttingen, Germany, tobias.weidner(at)

Funding: Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony, Program "Research Cooperation Lower Saxony – Israel"
Duration: 2022–2025


Our joint German-Israeli project will study the legacy of Nazi medicine and the Holocaust and its impact on bioethics.

National Socialist medicine and medical research was based on eugenics and racial hygienics, on the systematic discrimination, sterilization and killing of disabled and psychiatric patients.

Modern bioethics and mental health ethics provide reflection and moral orientation for health care professionals, patients, and health politics. Strikingly, the connections between bioethics and Holocaust memory have never before been systematically examined. To fill in this gap, we will look at how perceptions of Nazi atrocities have shaped the emergence of bioethics by comparing contemporary mental health ethical debates in Germany and Israel between 1990 und 2020. (In both countries, institutionalization of medical ethics began in about 1990.) Our investigation focuses on two research questions in the area of mental health ethics:

  1. What image of the patient has informed mental health ethics – particularly the concepts of informed consent and patient autonomy – and on which formal regulations, informal assumption and historical references is that image based?
  2. What are the ethical imperatives that guide research on mentally incompetent or incapacitated persons, or patients with severe mental illness (e.g. dementia research and placebo-controlled clinical trials) and how are they influenced by collective memory of a traumatic past?

By comparing ethical debates in Germany and Israel we aim at detailed, disciplinary-reflective understandings of the historical, social, and political factors which influence the development of ethical discourse in psychiatry and mental health. Such comparative insights will prove fruitful in understanding the cultural framing of bioethical thinking.

About us

Our interdisciplinary team brings together top-tier researchers with diverse expertise in bioethics, public health, history, and sociology. Silke Schicktanz, Nadav Davidovitch, and Rakefet Zalashik have conducted a long-standing exchange on the influence of history and memory on current debates in bioethics. Since 2017, they have jointly organized several workshops on bioethics after the Holocaust in Israel and Europe, and together with Heiko Stoff have founded an international working group on “Bioethics and the Legacy of the Holocaust”. Starting in 2022, they are joined by Karina Korecky, whose research focuses on sociology of psychiatry. Associated scholars Tobias Weidner and Limor Malul will be contributing their expertise in the history of bioethical debates and historical impacts on the development of medical research in Israel. We are drawn together by a common interest in understanding how the legacy of medical practices during the Holocaust has influenced the emergence of bioethics and, more broadly, in reflecting on the relationship between medical history, ethical debates, and current medical practices.


  • Schicktanz, S., Michl, S., Stoff, H. 2021: “Bioethics and the argumentative legacy of atrocities in medical history: Reflections on a complex relationship,” Bioethics, 3 Jan 2021
  • Boas, H., Davidovitch, N., Filic, D., Zalashik, R., “From bioethics to biopolitics: ‘Playing the Nazi card’ in public health ethics—the case of Israel,” Bioethics, 28 May 2021
  • Malul, L., Davidovitch, N., Almog, S., “The Impact of Past Events on the Development of Human Medical Experimentation in Israel,” Korot, The Israel Journal of the History of Medicine and Science, Vol. 25, 2019-2020, 77-100



Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz

Prof. Dr. Silke Schicktanz

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