Nazi medical experiments

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The Nazi medical experiments were a series of nonconsensual medical experiments performed, primarily at Nazi concentration camps, for various military and radical ideological reasons. A number of the participants, such as Ernst Grawitz, committed suicide. Others, such as Josef Mengele, were not identified during the early investigations.

Most surviving experimenters were tried at the Medical Case of the Nuremberg Military Tribunals. The Nuremberg Code, and then the Declaration of Helsinki, were created as a response to what most considered egregious violations of medical ethics.

While top officials were tried, there was an arguable influence from German academics, who often were not prosecuted. Otmar von Verscheur, for example, advised and encouraged Mengele. [1] from the Kaiser William Institute of Anthropology, Human Genetics, and Eugenics[2]

Trial approach

Brigadier general Telford Taylor, the prosecutor, divided the experiments into two broad categories:[3]

  • Crime committed in the name of scientific research, generally with a military-related goal
  • Experiments for Nazi race and biological ideology, such as skeleton collection and sterilization


Relatively few of the Nazi experiments had any pretense of scientific validity, but there have been some arguments that the data collected in the freezing experiments could benefit humanity, giving meaning to the deaths, by providing unobtainable data on hypothermia; this has been examined from the perspective of Jewish law. [4] A more common position, however, as described by Marcia Angell, is that the data are irrevocably tainted. While, she writes, it could be "tempting to overlook the ethical lapse. But to do so would be to regard the subjects as means to an end, albeit a worthy end,and judgments about the implications of research results would come to replace judgments about the study.[5] She quotes the Massachusetts General Hospital Guiding Principles for Human Studies (1981), "a study is ethical or not at its inception. It does not become ethical because it succeeds in producing valuable data."

Other WWII medical experiments

While the acts are beyond all codes of medical ethics, such as the Declaration of Helsinki, it should be noted that there were fewer deaths in these programs than in the Japanese experimental program, especially Unit 731 under Shiro Ishii.


  1. Rebecca Erbelding (28 April 2008), The Historiography of Josef Mengele: Home, George Mason University
  2. Bentley Glass (October 1981), "A Hidden Chapter of German Eugenics between the Two World Wars", Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 125 (5)
  3. Telford Taylor (1992), Opening Statement of the Prosecution, December 9, 1946 (copy edited version), in George Annas and Michael Grodin, The Doctors' Trial and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195070429, pp. 70-86
  4. Baruch C. Cohen, "The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments", Jewish Law Articles
  5. Marcia Angell (1992), Editorial Responsibility: Protecting Human Rights by Restricting Publication of Unethical Research, in George J. Annas & Michael A. Griffin, The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code: Human Rights in Human Experimentation, Oxford University Press, p. 278