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After 1945, news of the Nazi euthanasia crimes sent a shock through the world of medicine. After formally distancing themselves, though, it was back to 'business as usual' in the other countries. For instance, the USA continued their corresponding eugenic research projects, the main objective of which had been to prove the 'inferiority' of African Americans in the 1950s.

A paradigm shift occurred in eugenic research after the discovery of DNA by Crick and Watson in 1952. It now seemed that direct access to the human germ line, the goal of eugenicists, was now within reach. It would take more than two decades, though, before the paradigm shift from eugenics to human genetics took hold in practice. The development of prenatal testing methods to screen for illnesses and disabilities in unborn babies and the improvement of reproductive treatments to the point of fertilising egg cells outside of the mother's body were milestones along this path. A paradigm shift also took place regarding steering mechanisms: state sanctions were removed and the decision regarding the abortion of a disabled embryo shifted to the individual.

Ambivalences and difficult, complex ethical assessments can also be found in other fields of modern life sciences. With regard not only to the beginning of life, but also its end, current developments in society and medicine touch on ground-breaking, existential, moral values and trigger debates that are sometimes very emotional and heated; keywords: right to decide on one's own death, medically assisted suicide and euthanasia. Other medical issues also deal with finding consensus and defining legal standards for difficult ethical questions and dilemmas by means of dialogue in society. Examples here are transplant medicine and the brain death criterion in particular.

Photo: Clipboards with data from milestones in life medicine in a laboratory environment