Should medicine continue to deal with eponyms?
After hearing a rumor in 2000 that Dr. Friedrich Wegener had connections to National Socialism, Dr. For years, Matteson and a colleague searched the archives of World War II around the world. They eventually found out that Dr. Wegener was a Nazi supporter who had worked three blocks from the ghetto in Lodz, Poland, possibly dissecting victims of medical experiments. In 2011, several major medical organizations decided to replace Wegener’s syndrome with “granulomatosis with polyangiitis” — admittedly a bite. (“Wegener’s” can still be found in ICD-11.)
The hunt for Nazi names was on. It was found that Clara cells, a type of cell that lines the lungs and secretes mucus, were named after a Nazi doctor who conducted experiments on soon-to-be-executed prisoners. The cells were renamed club cells due to their bulbous shape. Reiter’s syndrome, a form of arthritis caused by a bacterial infection, was renamed “reactive arthritis” after it was discovered that it was named after a doctor who conducted deadly typhoid experiments on inmates at Buchenwald concentration camp.
In most cases, the name change was consistent with medicine’s growing preference for descriptive rather than honorific terms. “A lot of us just don’t use eponyms because they’re not anatomically meaningful,” said Jason Organ, an anatomist at Indiana University. Instead of a fallopian tube, he said, “the uterine tube just makes more sense — it tells you what it is.” In some cases, inconsistent use of eponyms can even lead to medical errors, added Dr. organ added.
Not all anatomists agree with this burn-and-burn approach. dr Sabine Hildebrandt, an anatomy educator at Harvard Medical School, completed her training in Germany several years before the legacy of Nazi medicine came to light. For her, eponyms offer an opportunity to remind future physicians that medicine must never go down another path. “I don’t necessarily want to see them as badges of honor, but as historical markers – as educational moments,” she said.
In the classroom, Dr. Hildebrandt’s Frey Syndrome, one of the rare medical namesakes celebrating both a researcher and a victim of the Holocaust. The syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause excessive facial sweating while eating, is named after Lucja Frey-Gottesman, a Polish neurologist who was murdered by the Nazis after being taken to the Lemberg ghetto.