What should we do about Eduard Pernkopf's atlas? : Academic Medicine

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What should we do about Eduard Pernkopf's atlas?

Riggs, G

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Academic Medicine 73(4):p 380-6, April 1998.
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Eduard Pernkopf created a classic anatomy atlas during World War II. He was also an ardent Nazi. Questions have been raised recently about the propriety of using an atlas created by a Nazi and illustrated by dissections of cadavers whose identities are unknown, but who could have been victims of Nazi political terror. To examine the ethical issues involved, the author first reviews recently published work regarding Pernkopf and his atlas, with the caution that facts are few in a debate where emotions run high and opinions abound. He then considers what has been written by bioethicists on the use of scientific data from the Nazi era and how those arguments might apply to Pernkopf and his atlas. Important questions remain, however. For example, are scientific data tainted by their associations with Nazism, or should such data (including the atlas) be assessed on their own merits, separate from the persons and ideologies involved in their creation? Finally, the author offers his own perspective as a young gross anatomist and physician. He argues that rejecting the hateful beliefs of Pernkopf and his fellow Nazis does not necessitate rejecting the elegant anatomic images they produced. The author further suggests that use of the atlas is itself the most fitting tribute to those who died for it, whether they were victims of Nazi repression or not. Those cadavers not only teach anatomy, they “can remind us of suffering not only in the past but in the present, that we may be more compassionate physicians, more compassionate citizens of the world.”

© 1998 Association of American Medical Colleges