Top East German hospital at heart of ethical scandal THE SOVIET CRISIS

August 30, 1991|By Ian Johnson | Ian Johnson,Special to The Sun The Knight-Ridder news service contributed to this article.

BERLIN -- A scandal swirling around medical practices in East Germany under the fallen Communist regime has evoked memories of the horrid human experiments performed during Germany's Nazi era.

German investigators are looking into evidence that in the campaign to develop gold-medal-winning super-athletes, East German doctors implanted teen-age girls with male hormones.

The experiments are described in a once-secret document obtained by The Sun and a German newspaper, entitled "Themes for State Plan 14.25 in Olympic Cycle 1984-1988." They led to extraordinary gynecological and other physical distortions the girls, according to doctors who treated them later at East Berlin's prestigious Charite Hospital.

The report anticipated that the girls could expect problems including ruined livers, malformed genitals, internal bleeding and psychological problems. Dr. Elise Ackerman, an assistant professor at the Charite Hospital who treated some of the girls after the program started, confirmed that those expectations were fulfilled.

"The young girls suffered liver damage. Some arrived at the internal medicine clinic [with livers] like squeezed-out lemons," Dr. Ackerman said.

Meanwhile, the Berlin Justice Ministry raided the Charite Hospital this week in search of evidence that the showcase medical institution of the East German regime was used to take organs for transplant and experimentation from the bodies of people who might have been kept alive.

The investigators also are looking into charges that doctors at the hospital -- one of the most prestigious in the world until World War II -- collaborated with the dreaded Stasi,the East German secret police, in turning over medical records that could be used to blackmail or compromise patients they were treating.

During the postwar East German regime, Charite was rebuilt as the premier medical institution in the Communist country. It was the beneficiary of vast amounts of money for the best equipment and technology.

A close relationship developed between its highest-ranking doctors and the security establishment that sustained the Communist regime.

At least 30 top doctors are believed to have had intensive contacts with the Stasi, and 18 have resigned because of the charges of unethical cooperation.

"That there was such a degree of involvement in Stasi affairs, that there was such a violation of professional honor, and that so many criminal acts were committed -- this has horrified me," said Berlin's director of scientific affairs, Manfred Erhardt, who indirectly oversees Charite.

Meanwhile, authorities also are investigating allegations that East German mental patients were sterilized with massive doses of X-rays or rendered "peaceful" with lobotomies, a practice long ago abandoned by Western science as cruel.

Prosecutors in the former East German city of Leipzig confirmed that they were investigating abuses in a state mental clinic in nearby Waldheim.

Ralf-Uwe Kohrt, a senior prosecutor, said sterilizations and lobotomies were performed there without medical cause or the permission of patients or relatives until shortly before German unification last October.

"We always knew that in the name of socialist science, the people there were cutting some corners, but we have found a real problem with ethics there," said a German physicist who sits on a government committee studying how to meld scientific organizations in East and West.

The record of the East Germans in international competition was already tainted by revelations last year that East German competitors had engaged in drug enhancement.

But the official memorandum for 1984-1988 reveals a formal policy to win gold medals and bring prestige to the Communist regime.

The report, which was written by East German officials in the early 1980s, details the state's plans for sport success from 1984 to 1988. It shows how leading sports institutions and medical research facilities were to "perfect" doping practices by experimenting on teen-age girls with male hormones.

"In the context of scientific and strategic activities, investigations are to be carried out accompanied by training and intensive consultation with [sports] club leadership and club doctors," the report reads.

"These people ran a doping cartel and carried out illegal &L experimentation on humans," said Dr. Werne Franke of the German Cancer Research Union in Heidelberg.

Some see Charite as a late victim of communism. Dr. Franke, who is married to former East German discus champion Brigitte Berendonk, said Charite is indicative of what can happen to medicine when it is subordinated to the state.

"Even more brutal scandals are bound to come up in Eastern Europe, especially in the field of psychiatry. Medical ethics and authoritarianism are simply not compatible," Dr. Franke said.

Dr. Franke has filed a complaint with the Berlin Justice Ministry against the program's directors. An official legal inquiry began this week.

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