- The Hippocratic Oath has served as the standard for ethical conduct for physicians and scientists alike since its establishment in 400BCE. In stating, “according to my ability and judgement, I will keep this Oath and this contract…” and through the use of other language, the Hippocratic Oath implies that the judgement of the doctor is the best for the patient, and thus assumes a certain degree of morality among doctors. However, the racial and eugenic ideologies held by the ruling Nazi regime during the 1930s and 1940s resulted in the rationalization, dehumanization, and brutal experimentation on unwilling subjects conducted supposedly in the name of science and medicine during the moment now referred to as the Holocaust. Tens of thousands of people died as a consequence of these experiments. Following the Nazi regime’s defeat in May 1945, the Allied forces created the International Military Tribunal and subsequent Nuremberg proceedings to prosecute top Nazi officials and set a legal precedent for war crimes and crimes against humanity. During these proceedings, the Americans organized and conducted the Doctor’s Trial, also called the Medical Trial, which resulted in the conviction of twenty-three high ranking Nazi officials for their role in medical experimentation conducted in SS-controlled concentration camps. The results of this trial were twofold. First, they imposed justice on the perpetrators. Second, they helped establish a new moral code of ethics in the realm of science and medicine. The Nuremberg Code was the first international document to outline a code of conduct among physicians and researchers in order to protect the rights of individuals within scientific and medical experimentation. This code both changed the practices and procedures of experimentation within post-war societies and established the foundations for future documentation in the field of bioethics. Such documents would not have been possible or nearly as successful without the context and lessons of the Holocaust, which serve as a warning about the delicate relationship between politics, science, and ethics to this day.
Key Words: Nazi medical experiments, Human experimentation, Nuremberg Code, Codes of medical ethics, Bioethics and the Holocaust