A Disease Named After a Doctor: What’s in a Name?
Since the beginning of my medical career I have known about the rare blood vessel inflammatory disease called Wegener’s granulomatosis, named after Dr. Frederick Wegener, a German pathologist who first identified the disease. I also have long known about Reiter’s syndrome, a form of arthritis, named after Dr. Hans Conrad Reiter, who wrote about that disease. Years later, Dr. Reiter became a senior Nazi official with “a trail of war crimes”. Dr. Wegener had joined the Nazi party to become a high official and may have participated in experiments on concentration camp inmates.
In recent years, these doctors’ affiliation and participation in Nazi activities have become known as described in an article appearing today in the New York Times.
In view of what is now known about their participation in crimes during the Nazi era, there has been an attempt to remove their names from the diseases they described. Their names however have been solidly ingrained into the medical terminology and we use them regularly in medical student education and communication between physicians and also between doctors and patients. The ethical issue is whether it is ethically right to continue using their names applied to those diseases now that we suspect what crimes they committed. Or is it more useful to clarity in the practice of medicine to retain these classic names, representing simply the disease and not the person? ..Maurice.