Leo Alexander

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Leo Alexander (October 11, 1905 – July 20, 1985) was an American psychiatrist, neurologist, educator, and author, of Austrian-Jewish origin. He was a key medical advisor during the Nuremberg Trials. Alexander wrote part of the Nuremberg Code, which provides legal and ethical principles for scientific experiment on humans.


Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, Alexander was the son of a physician. He graduated from the University of Vienna Medical School in 1929, interned in psychiatry at the University of Frankfurt, then emigrated to the United States in 1933. He taught at the medical schools of Harvard University and Duke University. During the war, he worked in Europe under United States Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson as an army medical investigator with the rank of Major. After the war, he was appointed chief medical advisor to Telford Taylor, the U.S. Chief of Counsel for War Crimes, and participated in the Nuremberg Trials in November 1946. He conceived the principles of the Nuremberg Code after observing and documenting German SS medical experiments at Dachau, and instances of sterilization and euthanasia. Alexander later wrote that "science under dictatorship becomes subordinated to the guiding philosophy of the dictatorship."[1]

Later, he served as assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Tufts University Medical School, where he stayed for almost 30 years. As a consultant for the Boston Police Department, Alexander was instrumental in solving the Boston Strangler case.[2] He directed the Multiple Sclerosis Center at Boston State Hospital, where he researched multiple sclerosis and studied neuropathology. He arranged for the treatment of 40 German Nazi concentration camp victims who had been injected by Dr. Josef Mengele with a precursor to gas gangrene, and provided them with psychiatric therapy.[3] Alexander wrote several books on psychiatry and neuropathology, and coined the terms thanatology—defined as the study of death—and ktenology—the science of killing.[4]

Alexander was a leading proponent of electroconvulsive (shock) therapy and insulin shock therapy.[5] According to psychiatrist Peter Breggin, Alexander - who was German-trained and German-speaking - was also an early eugenicist, and the failure of the Doctor trials to bring psychiatrists to justice was due in part to Alexander being the chief investigator.[6]

Alexander died of cancer in 1985 in Weston, Massachusetts, survived by three children.


  1. ^ Alexander, Leo (1949). "Medical Science under Dictatorship". New England Journal of Medicine. 241 (2): 39–47. doi:10.1056/NEJM194907142410201. PMID 18153643.
  2. ^ Gale, 2007.
  3. ^ New York Times, 1985.
  4. ^ Alexander, Leo (1948). "War Crimes and Their Motivation: The SocioPsychological Structure of the SS and the Criminalization of a Society". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 39 (3): 326.
  5. ^ Alexander, Leo (1954-09-01). "Outpatient Electroshock Therapy in Psychoses". Medical Clinics of North America. 38 (5): 1363–1378. doi:10.1016/S0025-7125(16)34806-4.
  6. ^ R., Breggin, Peter (1993-01-01). "Psychiatry's role in the holocaust". International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine. 4 (2). doi:10.3233/JRS-1993-4204. ISSN 0924-6479.


  • Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2007. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. 2007. Retrieved on May 5, 2007.
  • Kindwall, Josef A. (September 1949). "Doctors of Infamy (review)". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 265: 190–191. doi:10.1177/000271624926500146. JSTOR 1026587.
  • Marrus, Michael R. (1999). "The Nuremberg Doctors' Trial in Historical Context". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 73 (1): 106–123. doi:10.1353/bhm.1999.0037. PMID 10189729.
  • "Dr. Leo Alexander, Psychiatrist, Fiance of Mrs. Anne". New York Times. 1969-12-07. p. 106.
  • "Dr. Leo Alexander, 79; Nuremberg Trial Aide". New York Times. 1985-07-24. p. B5.

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