On August 20, 1947, the judges delivered their verdict in the "Doctors' Trial" against Karl Brandt and 22 others. These trials focused on doctors involved in the human experiments in concentration camps. The suspects were involved in over 3,500,000 sterilizations of German citizens. The trials began on December 9, 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany and were led exclusively by the United States. Harry Truman approved these trials in January 1946. Several of the accused argued that their experiments differed little from pre-war ones and that there was no law that differentiated between legal and illegal experiments.
In May of the same year, Dr. Leo Alexander had submitted to the Counsel for War Crimes six points defining legitimate medical research. The trial verdict adopted these points and added four. The ten points constituted the "Nuremberg Code". Although the legal force of the document was not established and it was not incorporated directly into either the American or German law, the Nuremberg Code and the related Declaration of Helsinki are the basis for the Code of Federal Regulations Title 45 Part 46, which are the regulations issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services governing federally funded human subjects research in the United States.
The ten points of the Nuremberg Code
- Required is the voluntary, well-informed, understanding consent of the human subject in a full legal capacity.
- The experiment should aim at positive results for society that cannot be procured in some other way.
- It should be based on previous knowledge (like, an expectation derived from animal experiments) that justifies the experiment.
- The experiment should be set up in a way that avoids unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injuries.
- It should not be conducted when there is any reason to believe that it implies a risk of death or disabling injury.
- The risks of the experiment should be in proportion to (that is, not exceed) the expected humanitarian benefits.
- Preparations and facilities must be provided that adequately protect the subjects against the experiment’s risks.
- The staff who conduct or take part in the experiment must be fully trained and scientifically qualified.
- The human subjects must be free to immediately quit the experiment at any point when they feel physically or mentally unable to go on.
- Likewise, the medical staff must stop the experiment at any point when they observe that continuation would be dangerous.
- Annas, George J., and Michael A. Grodin. The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 1992. Print.
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- Weindling, Paul: Nazi Medicine and the Nuremberg Trials (Palgrave, Basingstoke 2004)
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- Weindling, Paul (2001). "The Origins of Informed Consent: The International Scientific Commission on Medical War Crimes, and the Nuremberg Code". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 75 (1): 37–71. doi:10.1353/bhm.2001.0049. PMID 11420451. Archived from the original on 2009-10-26.
- 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. Archived from the original on 2007-12-01.
- BRITISH MEDICAL JOURNAL No 7070 Volume 313: Page 1448,7 December 1996.
- The Nuremberg Code (1947) In: Mitscherlich A, Mielke F. Doctors of infamy: the story of the Nazi medical crimes. New York: Schuman, 1949: xxiii-xxv.
- Carl Elliot's article Making A Killing in Mother Jones magazine September 2010 asks if the Nuremberg Code is a valid legal precedent in Minnesota
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