Ethics in Nazi Experimentation



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Ethics in Nazi experimentation

All medicine based on scientific research depends highly on the useof human experimentation. Scientists have various ways that they canuse living human subjects to research the behavior andcharacteristics of various disease-causing agents to be in a positionto create medicine that can counter them. Additionally, beforeimplementing surgical procedures, scientists use humans to dig deepinto the human-morphology to gain an understanding of the correctprocedures to follow. Without the use of human subjects, medicalpractitioners would have achieved little medical progress by now.However, by doing so, medical principles decree the need for guidingprinciples on the use of human subjects in medical experimentation.The purpose of this is to protect the subjects and their rights ashuman beings, with the sole purpose of ensuring that no one is hurtin the process. This is the reason why most units have formulated andenforced strict medical ethics in the medicine discipline. Despitethis, some nations, labs or entities have conducted some humanexperiments, both in small scale and in large scale, which seriouslyviolate the medial ethics on human experimentation.

On the other hand, some laboratories have conducted a series of humanexperiments without participants’ consent, which put people ondanger seriously. After the World War II, prosecutors at theInternational Military Tribunal at Nuremberg brought a number ofleading Nazi doctors to trial with charges of Crimes against Humanityand War Crimes after their involvement in Nazi Experiments. Thetrials revealed proof of sadistic human experiments that occurred atBuchenwald, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Auschwitz concentration campsand overseen by the doctors. Since then, the society has remainedwary of the ills human experiments can produce if unchecked even whenparticipants’ consent exist in some cases. In fact, researchdemonstrated that the doctors were guilty of premeditated murderdisguised as human research. In this regards, the discourse willoffer a context on how doctors coerced prisoners to participate inthe experiments, usually based on prisoners’ unwillingness tovolunteer and lack of informed consent. In addition, the discoursewill demonstrate how the experiments resulted in numerous death,permanent disability, disfigurement, and other forms of medicaltorture. The approaches used and disguised as medical research anddirected on prisoners will help deconstruct the holocaust and theethical dilemma that may arise in some medical experiments. As such,the paper looks at the ethics of Nazi medial experimentation duringthe holocaust.

Thesituation in Nazi Germany

There were severely cruel medical research problems in the Nazi-ledGermany during the years of the Second World War, running from 1939to 1945 (Peteet &amp D’Ambara, 2011). Doctors conducted theseexperiments in Nazi concentration camps, mostly with Jews prisonersalthough they also used other political prisoners. The medialexperimentation projects were spearheaded by government approved andestablished institutions of the Third Reich. The projects weredivided into three main areas. The first area was dedicated toimproving the survival rates of Germany troops that were most activein war at the front line. The second area was dedicated to testingvarious medical procedures and pharmaceuticals, with the aim ofimproving the general health of the supporters of the regime.Finally, there was an area of research that was dedicated toconfirming the Nazi ideology of life and living, which at this timewas highly publicized. Because of this, the medical experimentationinstitutions needed to conduct highly intensified medical experimentson living subjects (Peteet &amp D’Ambra, 2011). Given that thiswas a period of war, and that the Fuhrer was dedicated to supportingthe strengthening of Germany and the regime, little could be done toregulate the manner in which medical experiments were conducted. Upto date, researchers have documented thousands of victims of theexperiments and specific cases demonstrated that highlight the ethicsof the Nazi medical experimentation during the holocaust.

The Nazi doctors performed ruthless medical experiments upon helplessprisoners in concentration camps without their consent. In fact, allthe experiments performed in the camps resulted from the Naziideology of supremacy thus, performed experiments on people with thebelief that they could understand how to manipulate the human body tocreate immortal soldiers. In addition, all the experiments in thecamps demonstrate total disregard for human dignity and compassion asshocking features characterized the acts of torture disguised ashuman experiments. The doctors forced prisoners to becomeparticipants in dangerous and grave researches against the prisoners’will, nearly all the prisoners who took part in the experimentsendured mutilation, incredible suffering, and indescribable pain, andall the doctors designed the experiments to terminate in cases offatal outcome.

Nazificationof the medical profession in Germany

Nazi experiments raise several medical and ethical questionsregarding the Nazi racial hygiene movement, which began in the 1930sand ended in 1945. In addition, they raise questions of informedconsent in experiments, voluntary willingness, and performance ofexperiments in hygiene and secure laboratories. Several bioethicalquestions have also been raised after several decades of refusal ofGerman medial community to come forward and acknowledge theirresponsibility in promoting Nazi ideology through humanexperimentation. The health of the state took primacy over the healthof the individual during the reign of Hitler, and this meant that alleffort was focused on working to improve the health of many,regardless the effect the same had on an individual. This set theideology of the medical profession in Nazi-Germany. Almost all themedical professions during this time supported the effort to make anew healthy nation that was dominated by the master Aryan race(Spielvogel, 2011). At the beginning of this, there was small andalmost unnoticeable effect. The medial professionals slowly startedshifting their minds from taking care of an individual, intobelieving that there are some lives, which can be sacrificed for thebenefit of many. Slowly, the realm of the unworthy lives, which couldbe sacrificed, expanded their scope to include the people who wereunproductive and ‘useless’ to the society, those who did not fitthe ideology of the predominant Nazi Germany, races which were notworthy (for instance the Asians) and generally all non-Germans, giventhat this was a period of intense war.

Roelcke&amp Maio (2004) assert that these were the first steps towards theNazification of the medical profession in Germany, which virtuallyhad no moral ethics. Non-ethical professionals spearheaded the fieldof science and medicine, which was at the center of Nazi racialhygiene movement and the Holocaust, most notable Dr. Josef Mengele,whose experiments researchers discuss in detail. At the heart ofoperations was racism, which guided the actions of the medicalprofessionals in Germany. The Nazi ideology spearheaded by Hitler andtaught to people undemocratically, overshadowed any moral obligationthat these professionals cared to show. Even the other major Europeancultures and the United States felt the effects of this nightmare.According to Roelcke &amp Maio (2004), the Nazification of themedical profession in Germany was accomplished hastily because of thesupport of the doctors who exploited the Hitler regime for their ownselfish needs. Racial victims were the foundations of glitteringcareers. The physicians, after the declaration of racial war againstthe enemies of the state, could freely carry out human experimentsthat did not mind the wellbeing of the victims. For instance, movesof ‘cleansing the race’ were highlighted by elimination ofindividuals who were considered weak and sickly. Of course, this wasnot without the use of these individuals to strengthen the remainingones even more. The doctors could try unethical surgeries, ruthlesssterilizations and other inhumane experiments in order to collectdata about the human body.

Medicalpractices and experiments in the concentration camps

In the Nazi Germany, all doctors worked in the shadow of the Nazimedical experiments on living people. One of the concepts of Germanmedicine during the Nazi era was that the value of human life wasmade inferior by select ‘useless life’. Therefore, they had to doaway with this strain and maintain only the ‘useful life’. Thedoctors worked with the motivation that they were saving the Germanrace from the threat of the so-called inferior lives. Thepractitioners justified their actions because the impure lives were abiological and medical threat to the third Reich. The doctors wereinvolved in torture and brutal human experimentation every day(Roelcke &amp Maio, 2004). Despite the fact that these experimentswere relatively small in scale before the start of the Second WorldWar, there severity was intense. The doctors got access to as manyliving control samples when the regime opened concentration camps tomanage the enemies of the state. The Hitler government sponsored andfunded the human experimentation projects in the concentration camps,and with time, this act became centrally controlled and coordinated.The sole purpose of the experiments on the inmates in these camps wasto benefit the army. This meant that the welfare of those in theconcentration camps was of little significance. The researchers weremade aware that the course of the war and ideology of the regime wasparamount, and those who impressed the leaders of the regime werecongratulated and even awarded. Korda (2006) notes that up to thisday, no atrocities involving medical experimentation living peoplerivals those carried out in the Nazi concentration camps.

In the concentration camps, a number of unsettled medical experimentsappear because of their cruel nature and utmost disregard of medicalethics. For example, the Nazi ideology became settled on experimentsof twins to understand the differences and similarities in thegenetics of twins as most Nazi doctors believed that twins wouldsolve the problem of military supremacy. In fact, Josef Mengele ledexperiments on more than 1,500 twins from 1943 to 1944 to see whetherthey could manipulate the human body unnaturally. Of the 1500 sets ofimprisoned twins used, only 200 individuals survived the experiments,which show the grave nature of the experiments. One groups of theseexperiments were those that were dedicated to aid the military.

According to Lerner &amp Soudry (2011), hemorrhage was recognized asthe leading cause of death in the battlefield. At a place known asDachau, there were tests on living people for the substance known aspolygal, which is concerned with blood crystallization. Naziscientists postulated that this substance would slow hemorrhage forabout 6 hours. To prove this, they shot prisoners through the spleen.According to medical ethics, intentionally harming to a point thattheir lives are put in risk is wrong (Hanks, Cherny, Christakis,Fallon, Kaasa &amp Portnoy 2011). The other ruthless experiment thatwas a violation of medical ethics was the altitude test. Thescientists thought that it was necessary to research the effect ofaltitude on the human body, and the best way they could do this wasto use living human samples. The procedures always ended up severelyharming the individuals or even killing them.


In 1933, the German totalitarian government enacted the sterilizationlaws. In medicine, medical rules and practitioners regard the use ofan involuntary individual as unethical (Cummings, 2013). As such,people who take part in any experiment or research should haveinformed consent and agree voluntary without any coercion orharassment to take part in the research or experiment. However, inthe Nazi Germany, the doctors and researchers subjected millions ofvictims to involuntary sterilization, all in the name of racialhygiene without informed consent or willingness. This was based onthe ideology that there was need to purify the German bloodline andto establish an internationally acknowledged and superior nation.Some extracts of the law for prevention of genetically diseasedoffspring demonstrate the unethical medical practices in the NaziGermany. A part of it read that anyone found to be having hereditaryillness by Nazi doctors could be rendered sterile by a surgicaloperation. This was based on evidence that that individual would passon the illness to the offspring (Cummings, 2013). During theholocaust, some Jews who were found to be having extra-ordinaryabilities such as engineering or architectural skills were spared.However, most fell victim of these merciless sterilization laws. TheNazis felt that hereditary Nordics were valuable for the country andits prosperity in the future. Racism dominated the sterilizationlaws, and the belief that the Nordics were superior to all othercultures in the world dominated the medical field in Germany. TheJews were considered the greatest threat to the wellbeing of theGermans through rising births of hereditary diseased babies andgradual disintegration that they suspected. Given this, they werevery eager to regulate marriage and reproduction, hence ruthlesslyimplementing the sterilization laws, which violated medical ethics.

Dr.Mengele Josef

If pointing at those holding the most responsibility for the Nazimedical fraternity’s unethical human experimentation were anythingto go by, Dr. Josef Mengele would undisputedly be chosen as one ofthe most notorious doctors in the Nazi regime (Cefrey, 2001). Despitehis attractive outer look, he was a monster who during the holocausthad little or no regard for the well-being of the individuals hecarried out experiments on. He specifically had an interest withcarrying out experiments on twins. He had the ability of makingpersonal connections with the victims, then carrying out experimentsthat would severely harm or even kill them. In 1943, Mengele was arecognized educated and experienced medical researcher based atAuschwitz (Cefrey, 2001). While carrying out his experiments, heworked with the leading medical researchers in the Nazi regime, andin order to develop his career, he concentrated on researching onheredity.

Like all the medical practitioners of his time, he fancied the ideasof being recognized as one of the personalities that made the futureGerman a pure nation. This made him engage in inhumane activities. Hewas based at Auschwitz because of the large number of twins that wereavailable to carry out experiments on. He was very influential in theconcentration camps of the holocaust. With a small flick of hisfingers, individuals for his experiments would be chosen. Twins withunusual traits were of most interest to him (Cefrey, 2001). Mengelewould carry out inhuman experiments on the twins. For instance, hewould inject their eyes with dyes to study if they could changecolor. He would also cut them up without the correct medication andset them up together to see if they would coordinated. Mengele’sexperiments were unquestionably the hallmark of the unethical medicalprocedures on living human beings that were conducted by the NaziGermany.

Ethicalconsiderations of medical experimentation on human subjects

In the year 1947, the Nuremberg Code was affected, as a direct resultof the heinous human experimentation that was performed by Nazidoctors during the holocaust (Leach, 2012). The number and severityof the actions of these doctors at the concentration camps dealt ablow to the standard medical ethics, warranting an action that wouldprevent the same from ever occurring again anywhere in the world inthe future. 10 principles were established to guide doctors as ajudgment by the war crimes tribunal, also known as the ‘DoctorsTrial’ at Nuremberg (Leach, 2012). These principles were designedto guide all physicians in human experimentation. Prior to this,there were no written international codes for doctors. There was anargument by the lawyers of the Nazi doctors that the United Stateshad equally carried out similar experiments, for instancedeliberately infecting prisoners with STDs and Malaria.

Oneof the violations of the Nazi doctors during the holocaust was thatthere were no willing volunteers for experimentation. According tothe medical ethics, for an informed consent to be consideredethically valid, there must be full disclosure of the nature of theprocedure and its possible side effects (Sugarman &amp Sulmasy,2010). This entails full disclosure of information to the potentialparticipants regarding the purpose of the research, benefits, if any,and other crucial information, which is important to help thepotential participant agree. Accordingly, the participants should beassured of confidentiality and anonymity, something that was notconsidered by the Nazi doctors during the holocaust. The participantsshould also be considered to be in a position to be competent to giveconsent. Dr. Mengele’s main victims, the children, were in noposition whatsoever to make competent consent. Therefore, bycarefully examining the actions of the Nazi doctors during theholocaust, it is understandable while such action was taken. Thisexplains the rationale for holding the doctors who participated inthese heinous acts responsible. Setting aside the effect of the Naziregime ideology regarding the purification of the German race, themedical experiments were nothing short of a grand scale of systematicmedical executions that did not mind the medical ethics.


TheNazi experiments demonstrate how grave medical studies can turn ifunchecked. Some years after the war, a number of professionals inWest Germany lived in denial on the scientific experiments conductedon people without their informed consent and usually conducted inunhygienic and unsafe places. In fact, the government of West Germanyallowed some doctors implicated in the experiments to continue withtheir practice despite the suffering they caused on people. Thisshows the reluctance of the world to develop regulations that protectthe dignity of people. In fact, some modern studies have used Dachaufreezing experiments in treating hypothermia since World War II, withmore than 45 publications reporting on the studies. This and otherexperiments on humans point to a growing reason for people toconsider all ethical issues that may arise in studies and ensure thatthey follow set guidelines that ensure the protection of people’sdignity and welfare.

The doctors designed all the medical research during the holocaustthat involved human experimentation to benefit the German militaryand the German people. This included development of chemical andbiological weapons, pharmaceutical testing and surgery proceduresdesigned to help the German military. The advancement of the racialideology made matters worse, as doctors did not consider the victim’slives useful. Despite the fact that German doctors took the oath ofno harm, political involvement in medicine overturned things. Duringthe holocaust, Germany went on to experience one of the darkestmoments in medicine. The medical practice was almost purelyunethical. This was the reason why there was a need to regulate theuse of humans in medical experiments, through the formulation of theNuremberg code, which has since then done a lot to preserve medicalethics. The future of medical ethics in Germany and the world atlarge is dependent on the rational behavior of the doctors, alongsidea number of other factors in the field.


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