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GeDenkOrt.Charité – Science and Social Responsibility

As the applied science of human beings, medicine carries with it an extraordinary responsibility - not only for today's society, but more importantly for future generations. No other time in history illustrates the absolute necessity for shared accountability than the National Socialist period ─ when right here in Berlin and at the Charité ─ the medical community turned its back on colleagues and patients in the name of an inhuman ideology.

The aim of the 'GeDenkOrt.Charité' initiative is to create places of historical contemplation on our historic Charité Campus in Berlin-Mitte. As such we hope to set a precedent that affirms the principles of a humane and responsible attitude to science.

Welcoming address of Prof. Dr. Karl Max Einhäupl, CEO of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

"It all started with a slight shift in the mindsets of the doctors…" 

These were the words proclaimed by Leo Alexander (1905 – 1985), himself an exiled neurologist and expert witness for the Nuremberg medical tribunal. He made this statement in 1947 and in doing so encouraged us to continue to remain vigilant in the face of modern concepts espousing the redesign and perfection of the human body.

There are numerous memorials commemorating German history throughout the country, particularly in Berlin. However, only a few institutions such as the Max Plank Society and Robert Koch Institute have systematically addressed and candidly confronted their own histories during the National Socialism (NS) period.

Until now, the Charité has lacked a visible, centrally located place of remembrance. Despite a few steps in this direction, no comprehensive historical-scientific analysis of the NS period has yet been undertaken. In this context, "GeDenkOrt.Charité" represents a highly significant and high-priority project that aims to close long-standing gaps in our culture of remembrance and expose historical realities, which in turn influence the contemporary and future identity of such an historic institution.

As an internationally renowned university hospital where physicians and scientists research, heal and teach at the highest levels and where students are trained and subsequently disseminate learned knowledge to the outside world, the Charité must set a precedent in in terms of addressing this subject in the form of a memorial site and accompanying information and research.

By establishing the "GeDenkOrt.Charité" memorial on its historic Campus located in the very heart of Berlin, the Charité aims to further public awareness of the issue of „Science and Social Responsibility". As such, university medicine now needs to concretely commit to examining its National Socialist history relating to research, teaching and medical care activities carried out in the name of the Charité. During the Third Reich, large sections of the medical and nursing professions willingly followed the paradigms of the ruling regime. "Non-Aryan" and politically undesirable colleagues were ostracized, dismissed and exiled. Any sense of collective or personal moral responsibility quickly dissolved in the face of an approach that systematically eroded the fundaments of responsible healthcare and accountable scientific study

And yet, remembrance and commemoration are not ends unto themselves. It is for the sake of the present and future generations that we must be fully aware of the past. This issue concerns nothing less than preserving the inviolability of human dignity, be it yesterday, today or tomorrow. Within this context all hospitals are places of physical and emotional vulnerability in which patients relinquish control of bodily functions in situations necessitating the utmost trust and sensitivity. As such, healthcare and scientific research do not take place in a moral void. Examinations and experiments carried out in the name of medicine and science must always be conducted against a backdrop of moral integrity aimed at safeguarding the most fundamental of basic human rights.

Beyond the ritualistic commemorating of historical events, the "GeDenkOrt.Charite" initiative aims to create an open, sustained discourse on the prescient issue of "Responsible Science". In doing so, critical reflection and analysis should not be limited to committees and working groups, but should rather constantly permeate the daily routines of all those dedicated to improving medical care. Indeed such guiding principles should also form the cornerstones for responsible ethical medical and scientific practice.

Such reflections may seem superfluous in the context of a modern age in which the medical landscape is dictated by evidence based medicine, quality assurance, accountable trials and a comprehensive catalogue of principled safeguards. And yet we need only contemplate our recent history to see that this has not always been the case. Even today we must remain vigilant and reflective at all times in order to ensure a conscientious and sustainable ethical attitude towards "Science and Social Responsibility".

"GeDenkOrt.Charité" thus represents a major undertaking that encompasses several components. These include designing tangible places of remembrance, initiating appropriate scientific projects, establishing a visiting professorship and integrating these topics into the new mode medical curriculum and generally raising public awareness. The concept of "Science and Social Responsibility" should thus extend far beyond the confines of the Charité. Instead such far reaching goals require the active support and financial assistance of the Berlin state government.

The main objectives of the "GeDenkOrt.Charité – Science and Social Responsibility" initiative can thus be summarized as follows:

  • Historical Objectives: To provide historical information at authentic locations that illuminate the massive failure (during National Socialism) of the medical community in terms of "Science and Social Responsibility".
  • Contemporary Relevance: To publically affirm the principles of "Science and Social Responsibility" on both a national and international stage.
  • A Vision for the Future: To actively initiate creative and innovative discourse among students and young physicians concerning the significance of "Science and Social Responsibility" and to thus raise awareness regarding potential hazards.

The planned timeframe for project implementation will span from the winter semester 2013/14 to the winter semester of 2016/17.

The "GeDenkOrt.Charité – Science and Social Responsibility" website will provide ongoing information on the status and progress of the project. The website will also feature announcements concerning project-related activities as well as written and photographic reports on completed projects.
Your active participation is very much appreciated, please feel free to send us your ideas, suggestions and constructive comments regarding the "GeDenkOrt.Charité – Science and Social Responsibility" project.

Karl Max Einhäupl

Information

The following internet site exists since the 1st of Dec. 2013 and remains incomplete. Contents will be continuously added with corresponding English translations. We are grateful for any relevant suggestions and ideas relating to this website which can be sent to us via email.