Fruit of the Poisoned Tree Redux

So in a completely bizarre series of redirects, I came across this article from 1997 today:

In it, there is a discussion of the fact that a widely used set of anatomical illustrations came from Nazi sympathetic sources.  And there's even the possibility that the artists who created the medical illustrations may have used cadavers of victims of the Nazis.  And the question arises, should their use be spurned.

And I was reminded of the "fruit of the poisoned tree" discussion The Hall had previously entertained.  But this is slightly more intriguing for me.  Before, the discussion was "should we hold the philosophy of a Nazi sympathizer suspect."  And the answer seemed to be pretty unanimous that, indeed those ideas are tainted by his Nazism.  But, this is less clear cut.  Assuming the cadavers used were not victims of Nazi murder, should these anatomical painting be considered (forgive the word) verboten because of their source?  Mind you, the accuracy and scientific nature of the paintings are not in question, just the morality of using diagrams painted by Nazis.  Now, the discussion changes (but not necessarily the answers, depending on the individual philosophy) if the cadavers used as models were victims of the Nazis.  But either way, I find myself intrigued as to the feelings of The Hall on this.


Anonymous said...

This is work that was commissioned before the Nazis took over in Germany (admittedly, they were ascendant) that had independent and enduring scientific value wholly separate from any ideology. It's the kind of work that should have been done, anyway. On the available information I'd use it, but like others before me, I'd clean off the swastikas and other trivia.

Other medical research by the Germans during WWII, such as stress-testing (to death) of live, captive human beings, seemed more like an excuse to torture people than legitimate research. Even then I would preserve evidence of what was done, not for use or citation, but as clear evidence that scientists are not immune from politically driven ethical corruption. I would consider destroying the publications made by these "doctors." I would consider requiring any researcher seeking to consult this information to include a description of what was done to the victims in any resulting publication.

All the above remarks turn on the lack of evidence that the cadavers for this project were not procured in a manner that further violates the ordinary ethical constraints of a researcher.

If, for example, it turns out that Herr Pernkopf strolled down to the local work camp or concentration camp and selected likely specimens to be murdered for the purposes of the project, I would advocate destroying every pixel of that work, and starting clean.


Grim said...

The issue with Heidegger wasn't that he was fruit of a poison tree, but that he might be one of its seeds. If he had merely been fruit of a poison tree, we might advise what doctors often do -- a correct dosa of what is otherwise poison is sometimes medicine.

The question is whether it is safe to plant those seeds in our heart.

Texan99 said...

I'm with Valerie. Clearly the work itself may be unimpeachable, even if it was produced by someone we now execrate. If the only connection is the author's later conversion to a horrible creed, I wouldn't refuse to touch the work.

I might replace it with other work if it were available. I wouldn't, for instance, want to produce textbooks using illustrations credited to Adolph Hitler as a young man. He shouldn't be held up as an authority on anything without extensive explanation and caution, which would only detract from the actual subject.

If the drawings were produced by torturing camp victims, burn them and start clean. There's nothing that's produced that way that I can imagine being so valuable and important that it's worth preserving. I don't care if someone painted the Mona Lisa on a human-skin lampshade. Such an artifact could have a place only in a Holocaust museum.

MikeD said...

And the information that has already saved the lives of hypothermia patients, that should be discarded? And it would be better that those people have died than benefit from data that the Nazis collected? I'm not advocating here, I am asking.

Texan99 said...

It's a good point. I guess I distinguish between using physical objects (including art) and using abstract knowledge. It's not so much a question of being too ethical to benefit from scientific advances with an ugly provenance, as not wanting to have an object out there that serves as a constant reminder of the man who created it and under what conditions.

And if Adolph Hitler had first figured out how to dislodge food from the throat, I wouldn't honor his memory by calling it "the Hitler maneuver." I'd expunge his name from everything but cautionary tales about how evil a man can be, and how bad an idea it is to elect him leader.

If I'm ever tortured to death, I'd like my torturers to be punished and their memories shunned, but if they discovery something useful I have no problem with it being put to use for innocent people in the future. They're even welcome to keep using my heart, kidneys, and corneas.

douglas said...

I recall Dennis Prager speaking about this years ago- perhaps it was when the article was written- and he was strongly against any use of material produced in those circumstances. I think the counter to Mike's last comment would be the same as how the 'If it saves one life...' line from Obama is silly. I think the strongest argument in favor of using material from such sources would be what Tex just said- that the persons who paid the price for that information might want their suffering to not have been in vain. Alas, we can only speculate as we cannot ask them. Perhaps then the answer is to retain the information, but credit the subjects (if we are not able to by name, then by some general reference) instead of the procurers of the information.

It's a difficult question. Perhaps it's best to focus on how to not let people gather information in this manner in the first place.

Nicholas Darkwater said...

Why stop at Nazism? Is that more vile than any of the other -isms? How much information have we gleaned from the former Soviet Union, or the thousands of years of Chinese 'medical research'?

Texas A&M has the largest archive of research about alternative fuel gathered from the Nazis after the war. Should we discard that as well & hope that somehow we come up our own markedly delayed but 'pure' solution?

What's past is past. You cannot un-torture that mass population by pretending that it didn't happen & trying to (un)create some newer form of damnatio memoriae. The facts are before you, & no matter how horrible the circumstances, should we not try to derive some form of benefit from the sacrifice of the victims?

And what is therefore to prevent us from continuing to condemn these past regimes -- all of them -- & their practices?