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ResourcesHuman Research EthicsThe Doctors Trial: The Medical Case of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings – USHMM

Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

The Doctors Trial: The Medical Case of the Subsequent Nuremberg Proceedings – USHMM

 


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The Nuremberg Code is generally considered to be the starting point for human research ethics/participant protection programs. It also codified core considerations such as voluntary participation/consent, beneficence and respect for persons.

On December 9, 1946, an American military tribunal opened criminal proceedings against 23 leading German physicians and administrators for their willing participation in war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Nazi Germany, German physicians planned and enacted the “Euthanasia” Program, the systematic killing of those they deemed “unworthy of life.” The victims included the mentally retarded, the institutionalized mentally ill, and the physically impaired. Further, during World War II, German physicians conducted pseudoscientific medical experiments utilizing thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent. Most died or were permanently crippled as a result. Most of the victims were Jews, Poles, Russians, and also Roma (Gypsies). After almost 140 days of proceedings, including the testimony of 85 witnesses and the submission of almost 1,500 documents, the American judges pronounced their verdict on August 20, 1947. Sixteen of the doctors were found guilty. Seven were sentenced to death. They were executed on June 2, 1948.

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