Harry J. Haiselden

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Harry John Haiselden (March 16, 1870 – June 18, 1919) was the Chief Surgeon at the German-American Hospital in Chicago in 1915 who refused to perform needed surgery for children born with severe birth defects and allowed the babies to die, in an act of eugenics.[1][2]


He was born on March 16, 1870 in Plano, Illinois to George W. Haiselden and Elizabeth Dickey. George Haiselden was a painter before he disappeared from public record.[3] Dr. Haiselden rarely mentions his father, but was extremely close to his mother.[3] In 1893 he graduated from the University of Illinois College of Medicine.[3] From 1893 to 1906, Haiselden served as Christian Fenger's resident at the German Hospital. In 1896 when Fenger opened the German-American Hospital, Haiselden became his assistant until Fenger's death in 1902 when Haiselden assumed the position of Chief Surgeon and Hospital president. The same year he joined Fenger at the German-American Hospital, Haiselden opened the Bethesda Industrial Home for Incurables. Little is known about this institution, but Haiselden later became an outspoken opponent of institutionalization of the mentally ill. His experience with the Illinois State Institution for the Feebleminded in Lincoln, Illinois, exposed him to the horrors of institutionalization and would later help justify his decision to let deformed infants die rather than grow up to become institutionalized themselves. Haiselden never married but did become a father to two adopted children, Dorothy Riggs and Beulah Hope Wesley, who had been abandoned at Haiselden's hospital.[3][4]

Early on the morning of November 12, 1915, another doctor at the German-American Hospital awakened Dr. Haiselden and informed him that patient Anna Bollinger had given birth to a baby boy with serious birth defects. Though Haiselden determined that surgery could save the infant's life, he advised the parents to take no action, convinced that their son could never lead a normal life. Five days later the baby, John Bollinger, died.[5] Haiselden then began a vigorous publicity campaign in defense of his decision, turning the Bollinger case into a major news story across the United States. His actions provoked passionate arguments both supporting and condemning his actions. Settlement house movement leader Jane Addams spoke out against him, while nurse and reform advocate Lillian Wald supported him. Helen Keller penned an article for The New Republic entitled "Physicians' juries for defective babies," in which she advocated on Haiselden's behalf. "It is the possibility of happiness, intelligence and power that give life its sanctity," she wrote, "and they are absent in the case of a poor, misshapen, paralyzed, unthinking creature."[6] While the debate raged on, the Chicago Medical Society threatened Haiselden with expulsion for his decision to allow the Bollinger baby to die.[7] He was acquitted by a trial jury, but eventually thrown out of practice by the Chicago Medical Board for his lecture series on eugenics and shameless promotion of The Black Stork.[3][8]

Haiselden starred as himself in The Black Stork, a 1917 silent movie that dramatized the events of the Bollinger case.[9] Haiselden wrote the movie in conjunction with Jack Lait, a muckraking journalist. The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures almost banned the film but after surveying opinions from prominent review board members from across the country, decided to require 18 changes to The Black Stork before permitting its release. Haiselden complied with the majority of the NBRMP's requests and the board allowed its release.[10] Because of the film's controversial content, theaters offered special male-only and female-only viewings. In 1918 it was played under the title Are You Fit to Marry? and continued to appear in theaters until as late as 1942.[11]

Haiselden died while vacationing in Cuba on June 18, 1919 of a cerebral hemorrhage.[12]

Haiselden deaths by refusal of medical intervention[edit]

  • Child of Anna and Allan Bollinger (John Bollinger), November 1915[1]
  • Child of Mr. and Mrs. Julius Werder, December 1915[13]
  • Child of William and Eva Meter, July 1917[1]
  • Child of Stephen Hodzima (Paul Hodzima), November 1917[4][14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Dr. Haiselden of Chicago Refuses to Operate to Save a Day-Old Infant. Physician, Who Acted Similarly in the Bollinger Case, Suspects Pre-Natal Influence.". New York Times. July 25, 1917. Retrieved 2008-12-28. The day-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Meter of 121 North Cicero Avenue, died today at the German-American Hospital, where Dr. Harry J. Haiselden refused to perform an operation which he acknowledged probably would save the child's life. Physician, Who Acted Similarly in the Bollinger Case, Suspects Pre-Natal Influence. 
  2. ^ Edwin Black (2004). War Against the Weak. Thunder's Mouth Press. ISBN 1-56858-321-4. At 4am on November 12, 1915, a woman named Anna Bollinger gave birth at the German-American Hospital in Chicago. The baby was somewhat deformed and suffered from extreme intestinal and rectal abnormalities, as well as other complications. The delivering physicians awakened Dr Harry Haiselden, the hospital's chief of staff. Haiselden came in at once. He consulted with colleagues. There was great disagreement over whether the child could be saved. But Haiselden decided the baby was too afflicted and fundamentally not worth saving. It would be killed. The method: denial of treatment. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Camery, Luke. "The Black Stork; Eugenics and Infanticide in twentieth century America". Retrieved 29 May 2013. 
  4. ^ a b Pernick, Martin (1996). The Black Stork. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 8–12. ISBN 0-19-507731-8. 
  5. ^ Martin S. Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 3-4.
  6. ^ John Gerdtz, "Disability and Euthanasia: The Case of Helen Keller and the Bollinger Baby," http://www.uffl.org/vol16/gerdtz06.pdf
  7. ^ "Medical Society's Committee Against Bollinger Baby's Physician". New York Times. December 15, 1915. Retrieved 2010-11-26. Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, who refused to perform an operation on the Bollinger baby because he believed the child would be a hopeless defective, will be expelled from membership in the Chicago Medical Society if the council of that body approves the findings of the Ethical Relations Committee. 
  8. ^ "Jury Clears, yet Condemns Haiselden". Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  9. ^ "The Black Stork". National Public Radio. Retrieved 2010-11-26. The film was inspired by the sensational case of Dr. Harry Haiselden, a Chicago surgeon who convinced the parents of a newborn with multiple disabilities to let the child die instead of performing surgery that would save its life. In the film, Haiselden actually plays himself, a wise doctor who attends the birth of a child born with congenital syphilis -- incurable at the time and a major cause of congenital disabilities. Two other doctors interfere, out of personal pride and misplaced benevolence, and try to convince the woman to save the child's life. The woman is forced to choose. 
  10. ^ "National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Archive" (PDF). Controversial Films. New York Public Library. Retrieved 24 August 2012. 
  11. ^ The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 5-6.
  12. ^ "Dr. Haiselden Dead In Cuba. His Refusal to Operate on Baby Caused National Comment". New York Times. June 20, 1919. Retrieved 2010-11-26. Dr. Harry J. Haiselden, whose decision not to operate in an effort to 'save the life of a known as " Bolllnger baby," caused widespread comment, ... 
  13. ^ Martin S. Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4. Haiselden was in New York on a lecture tour at the time, but authorized withholding treatment via telegram
  14. ^ Martin S. Pernick, The Black Stork: Eugenics and the Death of "Defective" Babies in American Medicine and Motion Pictures Since 1915 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 4. Haiselden prescribed a narcotic to ease and speed the death of two-year-old Paul, who suffered from a constricted windpipe. Facing considerable public pressure, Paul's mother stopped administering the drugs. The boy's fate is not known.