Journal Article

From the Nuremberg “Doctors Trial” to the “Nuremberg Code”


At the close of the Nuremberg Medical Trial (NMT) on 19 August 1947, the judges pronounced guidelines on permissible clinical experiments. From around 1963 these guidelines were called the “Nuremberg Code”, thereby investing them with status as a fundamental document on research procedure. Their status as part of a judgement at an international court set a precedent in judging landmark cases of murderous and maiming conduct arising from coercive research. The aim of this paper is to correct some misconceptions concerning the origins and implications of these guidelines. The first misconception is that the Guidelines/Code arose solely from courtroom proceedings. This overlooks an agenda which had existed since the liberation of concentration camps to secure a set of regulations to protect research subjects. In short, the victim had agency by protesting against, resisting and sabotaging the coerced experiments, and when it came to being witnesses at the NMT, a reflective voice. Victims of research and liberated prisoner doctors made a profound impression on Allied scientific intelligence officers, who then laid the knowledge-base for the NMT. Secondly, although the judges stressed the autonomy of the research subject and the obligation to inform about potential risks, the key term “informed consent” did not appear in the guidelines of 1947. Thirdly, it is a misapprehension that the principles promulgated by the judges received neither publicity nor recognition. The case against the Vienna internist Wilhelm Beiglböck illustrates salient aspects.

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Weindling, Paul J.

Oxford Brookes departments

Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences\Department of History, Philosophy and Culture


Year of publication: 2018
Date of RADAR deposit: 2018-10-01

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

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