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Doctors of Doom

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  • Doctors of Doom

    Long history of the doctors of doom
    font July 7, 2007

    There is nothing new about physicians taking part in acts of barbarism, writes Robert Kaplan.

    DOCTORS have frequently been accomplices in politically motivated repression, brutality and genocide, conducting inhumane experiments on victims, participating in torture and directing programs to exterminate the enemy. For no reason other than they had the power to do it at the time, they have beaten, tortured and killed victims.

    Political medical murderers reverse the process of patients seeking help from a doctor, instead misusing their skills on vulnerable groups in the name of nationalism or ideology.

    Systematic participation of doctors in state terrorism began with the Armenian genocide in Turkey in 1915. Medical personnel were directly involved in the killings, often participating in torture. Behaeddin Shakir and Mehmet Nazim established extermination squads staffed by criminals.

    Nazim, in one of the most misguided appointments in the history of medicine, was professor of legal (ethical) medicine at Istanbul Medical School.

    Mehmed Resid was involved in the "deportation" of 120,000 Armenians. Resid's brutality included nailing red-hot horseshoes on the victim's chest, and crucifying them on makeshift crosses.

    The Armenian genocide provided the template for the Nazi holocaust, leading to the most notorious example of medical complicity in state abuse: Nazi doctors who participated in euthanasia and genocide, of whom the most well known is Josef Mengele.

    Japanese medical abuses were as bad as those of the German doctors. The Imperial Army's Unit 731 conducted unspeakably cruel experiments on the people of Manchuria, infecting villages with anthrax, plague and cholera, performing live vivisection - cutting out the heart or brain from living victims, or burning them alive with jolts of electricity.

    Involvement of doctors in state repression and abuse has, if anything, escalated since 1945. Medical dictators running repressive regimes include: the former cruel ruler of Haiti Papa Doc Duvalier, the Malawi dictator Hastings Banda, Felix Houphouet-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, and Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

    The psychiatrist Radovan Karadzic, who led the Bosnian genocide (1992-95) in which more than 200,000 people died, used training in group therapy to formulate terror tactics and had his troops shell the hospital where he worked.

    There has been a rise in doctors leading terrorist groups, including George Habash, a paediatrician and leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Osama bin Laden's personal physician, Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the world's most wanted terrorists.

    Why do doctors kill patients, or use their skills to participate in horrendous experiments, torture or genocidal murder in the service of the state or a political cause?

    The British psychiatrist Humphrey Osmond described the three facets of the medical role as sapiential, authoritarian and charismatic. All doctors have these three factors to a varying degree in their personality; when any factor is overarching, then problems occur.

    Medicine attracts a certain kind of personality, one lured by the power of life over death. Many clinicidal doctors have extremely narcissistic personalities, a grandiose view of their capability and an inability to accept they could be criticised or need help from other doctors. Such doctors develop a God-complex, getting a thrill out of ending suffering and by determining when a person dies. Two such doctors would be Harold Shipman in Britain and Michael Swango in the US, who between them killed 313 patients.

    This narcissism explains the most puzzling aspect of clinicide, doctors who cannot stop what they are doing. Such individuals, while not necessarily psychopathic, go to extraordinary lengths to get what they want.

    Professor Robert Kaplan is a forensic psychiatrist in Wollongong and Sydney, and honorary clinical associate professor at the Graduate School of Medicine, Wollongong. His book Clinicide: the Story of Medical Murder is in press.
    "All truth passes through three stages:
    First, it is ridiculed;
    Second, it is violently opposed; and
    Third, it is accepted as self-evident."

    Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)