With the development of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) in 2013, Aspergers was dropped as its own diagnosis. Although this label has been replaced with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Aspergers is still included in the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases. Despite lack of inclusion in the DSM-5, Aspergers is still used by individuals previously diagnosed and colloquially in American conversation to describe general social awkwardness.
Recently, shocking details regarding Dr. Hans Asperger, one of the pioneers in autism research and for whom Aspergers condition was named, and the role he played in Nazi Germany have been uncovered. Previously unexamined documents from the Viennese area have shown new information regarding the practices of the doctor. These documents show that he actively cooperated in the euthanasia of children with mental and physical disabilities. According to a CNN article by Mezzofiore (link at the bottom of the blog), several instances are documented where he referred profoundly disabled children to a clinic where children who did not meet the standards of Nazi Germany were regularly euthanized.
Herwig Czech, a medical historian at the Medical University in Vienna, writes that information from these documents runs counter to the image that Dr. Hans Asperger attempted to paint of himself. Czech writes that during his career Asperger championed himself as a “principled opponent” protecting his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other eugenic measures of the time.
How then does this news regarding the historical unethical practices of Dr. Asperger change how we relate to or use this term?