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Ulrich Gottstein: A physician’s duty is to “practice the politics of peace”

June 16, 2011

Prof. Ulrich Gottstein, a leader of IPPNW-Germany and an elder statesman of the international physicians movement to prevent war and to abolish nuclear weapons, was awarded the Paracelsus Medal—the highest honor given by the German medical profession—on May 31, 2011. The first recipient of the medal was Albert Schweitzer, in 1952.

His friends and colleagues throughout the IPPNW federation congratulate Dr. Gottstein and thank him for his dedication and leadership. Following are his remarks upon receiving the award.

Ulrich GottsteinHonourable President Prof. Hoppe, respected members of the board of the German Medical Association, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

After having been honoured by being awarded the Paracelsus medal, I would like to express my particular thanks and also sorrows on this day, which is so important for all of us.. What is it that moves me especially and probably many of you too?: There are wars and terrorism every day,  the climate crisis endangers our planet, the man made destruction of our environment is to be observed year by year, and there are the increasing risks through nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

I belong to the generation which lived through the brutal last world war, and “experienced” the horror of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki while I was a young prisoner of war behind barbed wire in England. Several months later we were  informed that these two relatively small bombs, seen from our perspective today, destroyed both cities totally and lead to the death of about 200,000 people, among them 75 – 90% of the doctors and nurses, and we learned that there is no medical help for those who are exposed to serious radiation.

We will not be able to help you!” is the statement of our physicians anti-nuclear peace movement, IPPNW, which was founded in the USA thirty years ago and then built up in 60 national affiliates, including Germany, here  through the initiative of myself and of Horst-Eberhard Richter. In 1985 the IPPNW was awarded the Nobel Peace prize. The statement “We will not be able to help you!” remains true till today for all those who will become  victims of nuclear weapons in  war, by terrorism or by radiation due to nuclear test explosions, or from nuclear power plants like Chernobyl twenty-five years ago, and now by the catastrophe in  Fukushima.

There exists only one method that helps, that is prevention.

Since the time of Hippocrates, we physicians have been looking after the  patients entrusted to us and feel ourselves bound by the Hippocratic oath. We heal and help and give advice on prevention, particularly in the case of diseases which are incurable, like AIDS or bronchial carcinoma caused by smoking. But are we physicians not honour-bound to warn governments about the most destructive diseases, namely wars and urge them to practice the politics of peace, non-violent diplomacy and the prevention of wars in order to fulfill our duties as physicians?!

Must we not speak out and say that according to our information from our medical colleagues in the Third World countries as well as from the daily TV programs, that it is not so much the drive towards democracy and freedom, but lack of work and payment,  exploitation and poverty in this time of globalization ? These are the reasons which lead to the hopelessness of the youth and are the roots for violence and wars!

Each year, since the end of the 2nd World War, 25 to 50 wars have been waged, national-regional wars as well as international wars based on power politics and economics, in which states participated which had their nuclear weapons with them on planes and warships.

It is a wonder that is has not come to a nuclear war since these weapons have been available. In the Cuban crisis we were within a hairs-breadth of one. Many high-ranking American politicians and leading military men have expressed this verbally and in writing.

Our physicians organization, the IPPNW, has demanded since thirty years that nuclear weapons be forbidden, that all nuclear weapons be destroyed and that they be banned by the World Court. We German physicians would be grateful if our demands were supported by the National German Chamber of Physicians and by this large conference of the German Association.

There is much more which is on my mind,  for example the  upholding of our medical ethics in accompanying our patients life and dying, as well as strengthening  palliative medicine in hospitals, hospices and at home.. It is also a matter of great concern for me, that we physicians, when caring for the extremely ill and suffering,  “should not take death into our hands, but rather let life go, when the time has come.” (Bishop Wolfgang Huber, some days ago)

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