Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics (CRB)
Is medical ethics really in the best interest of the patient?
Programme : Should ideology be allowed to trump patient well-being? : Abstract of presentation

A history of concern: the ethical dilemma of using nazi medical research data in contemporary medical and scientific research


Ross Halpin
Sydney University, Hebrew Biblical and Jewish Studies, Sydney, Australia


Background: Arthur Caplan states that 'you can't think about contemporary issues of medical ethics outside the shadow of the Holocaust', and, indeed, though there can be no question about the immorality of the Nazi ‘medical experiments' themselves, more than sixty years after the Holocaust there is still debate as to whether the recorded data should have been used or should continue to be used or not.

Methods/Application: The presentation provides the results of a survey of 32 renowned contemporary physicians, scientists and ethicists from Israel, the UK, the USA, Australia, South Africa, Germany and Canada. Four cases were presented to the participants - 3 experiments by the Nazi doctors and the Tuskegee experiment conducted in the US were presented. Eight questions were asked. The most important question: Should the data be used?

Results: Each participant acknowledged the experiments were unethical and did not involve the question of consent or comply with other conditions of a code of medical ethics that existed in Germany and the US at the time of the experiments. The results indicated that the vast majority of the participants would use the data if it would save a life. They would make this decision irrespective of the nature of the experiment and irrespective of the suffering of the victim or patient. Those who opposed the use of the data based their conclusions on the respecting the memory of the victims and to uphold the honor and dignity of science.

Conclusion: Those who advocated the use of the data referred to the Hippocratic Oath as the measure upon which they made their decisions and to a large extent ignored the Nuremberg Code of Medical Ethics and the Act of Helsinki. Why have a code of ethics if results of a scientific or medical experiment will be used irrespective of their ethical or scientific validity?

Email: rwhalpin@gmail.com


This conference is arranged by Cesagen at the universities of Lancaster and Cardiff and the Centre for Research Ethics & Bioethics at Uppsala University.
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