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Nervenarzt. 2016 Aug;87 Suppl 1:18-29. doi: 10.1007/s00115-016-0141-x.

[German neurology and neurologists during the Third Reich: exemplified by research on epilepsy].

[Article in German]

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Institut für Geschichte, Theorie und Ethik der Medizin, Heinrich-Heine-Universität, Düsseldorf, Deutschland.
Institut für Geschichte und Ethik der Medizin, Universität zu Köln, Joseph-Stelzmann-Straße 20, 50931, Köln, Deutschland.


There are only a small number of studies dealing with the impact of eugenic theories and practices on the research of particular neurological diseases during the Third Reich. Thus, this contribution to the special issue on neurology in Germany between 1933 and 1945 focuses exemplarily on epilepsy research. By drawing on primary sources and secondary literature the article tries to reconstruct the scientific discourse of the time and consider the implications for patients. National socialistic ideology was based on eugenic thinking and the implementation of eugenic policies was a major political objective. An immediate effect of this policy was the passing of the Law for the Prevention of Genetically Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses) in 1933. According to this law "hereditary epilepsy" along with various other neurological and psychiatric disorders was regarded as a mandatory indication for forced sterilization. Subsequently, funding of epileptological research was generously increased and extended, e. g. at the German Research Institute (Deutsche Forschungsanstalt) in Munich and the Rheinische Provinzial-Institut in Bonn. The main focus was placed on idiopathic forms of the disease, which were a priori considered as hereditary. At the annual meetings of the Society of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists (Gesellschaft deutscher Neurologen und Psychiater), lectures and debates on epilepsy repeatedly constituted a key topic. Some participants opted for a broad interpretation of "endogeneity" and thus favored an extension of the practice of sterilization but others advocated a more differentiated and restricted attitude. Several neurology researchers showed a penchant for self-mobilization in line with the doctrine of the new government.


Epilepsy/history; Eugenics/history; Germany; National Socialism/history; Neurology/history

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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