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Volume 19, Fall 2006           
Nuremberg Trials 60th Anniversary
Medical Trial Judgment

Section 1
Background and Preparation for the Nuremberg Trials
Section 2
Proceedings of the International Military Tribunal
Section 3
Twelve Subsequent Trials
Medical Trial
Medical Experiments
Medical Trial Judgment
Justice Case
Industrial Cases
Krupp Trial
Taylor's statement
On August 19, 1947, the Tribunal in the Doctors’ Case handed down its judgment:

Judged by any standard of proof the record clearly shows the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity substantially as alleged in counts two and three of the indictment. Beginning with the outbreak of World War II criminal medical experiments on non-German nationals, both prisoners of war and civilians, including Jews and “asocial” persons, were carried out on a large scale in Germany and the occupied countries. These experiments were not the isolated and casual acts of individual doctors and researchists working solely on their own responsibility, but were the product of coordinated policy-making and planning at high governmental, military, and Nazi Party levels, conducted as an integral part of the total war effort.....

(Telford Taylor, Final Report to the Secretary of the Army on the Nuremberg War Crimes Trial under Control Council Law No. 10 (William S. Hein & Co., 1997), n. 270.)

Code of Ethics for Medical Experimentation

In the aftermath of the Doctors’ Trial, the judges and members of the prosecution pressed for the development of a code of ethics to guide medical experimentation. This code subsequently known as the Nuremberg Code set forth ten guidelines for appropriate forms of medical experimentation on human beings - guidelines that still influence medical decisions in the 21st century:

The Nuremberg Code of Ethics for Experiments on Humans

[The ten principles for guiding human experimentation were developed in response to the evidence of Nazi experiments presented at the Medical Trial.]
  • The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

  • The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.

  • The experiment should be designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.

  • The experiment should be conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.

  • No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

  • The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.

  • Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability or death.

  • The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.

  • During the course of the experiment the human subject should not be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.

  • During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probably cause to believe, in the exercise of good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.
Questions for reflection and discussion:

1. Dr. Leo Alexander, a medical consultant at the Doctors’ Trial, wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine a warning to the American medical profession:

Whatever proportions these crimes finally assumed, it became evident to all who investigated them that they had started from small beginnings. The beginnings at first were merely a subtle shift in emphasis in the basic attitude of the physicians. It started with the acceptance of the attitude, basic in the euthanasia movement, that there is such a thing as life not worthy to be lived. This attitude in its early stages concerned itself merely with the severely and chronically sick. Gradually, the sphere of those to be included in this category was enlarged to encompass the socially unproductive, the ideologically unwanted, the racially unwanted and finally all non-Germans. But it is important to realize that the infinitely small wedged-in lever from which this entire trend of mind received its impetus was the attitude toward the nonrehabilitable sick.

Dr. Alexander sounded a warning to his fellow Americans:

American physicians are still far from the point of thinking of killing centers, but they have arrived at a danger point of thinking, at which likelihood of full rehabilitation is considered a factor that should determine the amount of time, effort and cost to be devoted to a particular type of patient....Americans should remember that the enormity of a euthanasia movement is present in their own midst. --Alexander, Leo. “Medical Science under Dictatorship.” New England Journal of Medicine 40, 46 (1949): 241.

1. Discuss to what extent Dr. Alexander’s warning still has relevance in the 21st century.

During testimony at the Doctors' Trial, American medical expert Dr. Leo Alexander points to scars on Jadwiga Dzido’s leg. Dzido, a member of the Polish underground, was a victim of medical experiments at the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Nuremberg, Germany, December 22, 1946.

2. The historian Dr. Robert Lifton has suggested that doctors involved with Auschwitz and other death camps lived by doubling: They had an “Auschwitz self” for doing their business with killing at the camp and their normal family self for dealing with their daily routine with family and friends. Discuss whether you believe it is possible for a person to double in this fashion. Do you find anything troubling with Lifton’s theory explaining Nazi doctors’ behavior?

3. An exhibition at the USHMM about medicine in the Third Reich is entitled “Deadly Medicine.” Do you find this an appropriate title? Why? To deal with this question you might want to check out the virtual tour of the exhibition on the USHMM website at

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