July 21, 2008
The American Medical Association in June called on a German association of internists to withdraw its recent award to former Nazi SS member and alleged war criminal Dr. Hans-Joachim Sewering.
The 25,000-member association, Berufsverband Deutscher Internisten, awarded the Guenther-Budelmann medal to Dr. Sewering in March for his contributions to "freedom of the medical profession," BDI President Dr. Wolfgang Wesiack, said in a statement. Dr. Sewering joined the Nazi SS in 1933 and from 1942-45 allegedly participated in a euthanasia program at Schonbrunn Sanitarium near Dachau, say historians, Nazi hunters and human rights activists.
About 900 children with disabilities were sent under doctors' orders to a nearby "healing center" where they were killed in the name of eugenics. The only surviving physician's order from the time bears Dr. Sewering's signature.
"The decision to give this prestigious award to someone who is alleged to have used medicine for harm is an affront to all physicians who are bound by our profession's most basic ethical principle -- first, do no harm," wrote Edward L. Langston, MD, then chair of the AMA Board of Trustees, in a June 4 letter to Dr. Wesiack.
In 1993, Dr. Sewering stepped down as president of the World Medical Assn. due to controversy over the allegations. At the time, he said he never knowingly sent any patients to their deaths. Bavarian prosecutors investigated the matter in 1995 but did not file any criminal charges. BDI did not respond to AMNews requests for comment on the AMA's letter.