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Hist Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;16(62 Pt 2):171-9.

The 1942 'euthanasia' debate in the American Journal of Psychiatry.

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La Familia Counseling Service, Hayward, California, USA.


This paper discusses and analyses three articles appearing in a 1942 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. In the first, neurologist Foster Kennedy argued that 'feebleminded' people should be killed (an act which he referred to as 'euthanasia'). The rebuttal was written by psychiatrist Leo Kanner, who argued against 'euthanasia'. An unsigned editorial discussing these positions clearly sided with Kennedy: that 'euthanasia' would be appropriate in some cases, and that parents' opposition to this procedure should be the subject of psychiatric concern. The arguments are analysed and discussed within the context of eugenics and the murder of mental patients in Germany. Finally, the author points out that currently ascendant genetic theories in psychiatry could be a precursor for future proposals similar to Kennedy's.

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