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Editorials |

Dr. Friedrich Wegener and the ACCP, RevisitedEditor’s Note: FREE TO VIEW

Mark J. Rosen, MD, FCCP
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Affiliations: New Hyde Park, NY ,  Dr. Rosen is Immediate Past President, American College of Chest Physicians, and Chief, Divisions of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Professor of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine.,  Editor in Chief, CHEST

Correspondence to: Mark J. Rosen, MD, FCCP, 410 Lakeville Rd, Suite 107, New Hyde Park, New York 11040; e-mail: mrosen@nshs.edu



Chest. 2007;132(6):1723-1724. doi:10.1378/chest.07-2640
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In a recent issue of CHEST, I reviewed how the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) honored Dr. Friedrich Wegener with a “Master Clinician Award” bestowed at the annual convocation in 1989, unaware of his past as an early member of the National Socialist party and the Sturm Abteilung (brownshirts), and officer in the German army.1After these facts were brought to the attention of the current ACCP leadership, we investigated them and confirmed them to be true. In June 2007, the Executive Committee of the ACCP Board of Regents elected to take no action. I wrote the editorial reflecting my own views, and invited members of the College to express theirs. Some of the more interesting letters are published in this issue of CHEST.5 Although some agreed that there is nothing to be gained by rescinding the award, the greater number disagreed strongly. Regardless of the College’s ignorance of Dr. Wegener’s past and regardless of Dr. Wegener’s motivations before and during World War II, his apparent willingness to participate actively in the Nazi effort was reprehensible and, more important, we are not aware of any evidence that he acknowledged or apologized publicly for his actions later.

These letters were distributed to members of the ACCP Board of Regents as we received them. After reviewing the correspondence, and with a few months of reflection, we met during CHEST 2007 to decide what action to take, if any. The Board voted almost unanimously to rescind Dr. Wegener’s Master Clinician Award. We acknowledge that the award was symbolic and the corrective action is symbolic. Nevertheless, the College acted with less than complete knowledge and must be more cautious in the future. The Board also voted to support actions by other agencies to rename the disease and use the new name if there is a term that is more accurate than Wegener granulomatosis.

I believe that these events taught us three important lessons. First, as an organization, the ACCP must preserve its integrity by creating and bestowing awards very carefully; in this case, the leadership created an award for a friend and colleague at the end of his life. This is a nice sentiment, but it devalues our awards as a formal recognition from our scientific and professional community. Second, we learned that our members are concerned about these issues, and are eager to communicate their opinions forcefully. The ACCP leadership needs to use these intellectual and ethical resources often, and the members should know that their expressed opinions are vital contributions to the College’s work. Third, and most importantly, it highlights our responsibilities as moral agents, both as an organization and as individuals. As moral agents, apology for an error is an imperative. We must take responsibility for our actions, express regret when appropriate, and make amends when possible. It appears Wegener missed that opportunity, but the ACCP did not.

The author has no conflict of interest to disclose.

Rosen, MJ (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Savel, RH, Goldstein, EB, Savel, H Time does not heal all wounds: medical luminaries, National Socialism, and the American College of Chest Physicians.Chest2007;132,2064-2065. [PubMed]
 
Lefrak, SS, Matteson, EL Freidrich Wegener: the past and the present.Chest2007;132,2065. [PubMed]
 
Girard, P Comment on Dr. Wegener editorial.Chest2007;132,2066
 
Emmett, M On Wegener and the ACCP.Chest2007;132,2066
 

Editor’s Note:

Cognizant of the content of Dr. Rosen’s editorials and the Letters to the Editor, we support a meeting of a vasculitis nomenclature committee to consider updating the classification of the vasculitides. If the committee recommends that there is a more accurate and better term for what we now refer to as Wegener Granulomatosis, CHEST will follow that recommendation.


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References

Rosen, MJ (2007) Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP and history.Chest132,739-741. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Savel, RH, Goldstein, EB, Savel, H Time does not heal all wounds: medical luminaries, National Socialism, and the American College of Chest Physicians.Chest2007;132,2064-2065. [PubMed]
 
Lefrak, SS, Matteson, EL Freidrich Wegener: the past and the present.Chest2007;132,2065. [PubMed]
 
Girard, P Comment on Dr. Wegener editorial.Chest2007;132,2066
 
Emmett, M On Wegener and the ACCP.Chest2007;132,2066
 
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