THE NUREMBERG TRIALS AND THEIR LEGACY FOR THE RIGHTS OF PATIENTS AND RESEARCH SUBJECTS
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When does clinical research designed to save lives and advance medicine become assault and murder? In the twentieth century the line between legitimate research on human subjects and criminal assault has been variously drawn. The demands of the researcher and the voice of the research subject and patient have received varying recognition. With the upswing of clinical research in the early twentieth century and some dramatic breakthroughs in medicine there was a tendency to heroise the researcher in the ‘fight’ against disease. In Nazi Germany, there were strong pressures to conduct research on lives deemed worthless in the hope of producing valuable breakthroughs in medical research to benefit the nation and race. After all, if the mentally ill and racially inferior Jews and Gypsies were going to be killed, their bodies might still serve a useful purpose. After WW2 the Nuremberg Trials were conducted on the basis of ‘crimes against humanity’, and by documenting wartime atrocities did much to safeguard human rights and dignity. After the four-power International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg came the trial against 20 Nazi doctors and three SS administrators: this concluded with a declaration on the conduct of research based on the autonomy and consent of the research subject.
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