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Nuremberg doctors' trial was an important milestone in the development of bioethical principles in medicine

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(Vienna, 1 March 2017) It was 70 years ago that 20 doctors from the Nazi regime in Germany were tried in Nuremberg, the judgements being pronounced in August 1947. The trials and their consequences, which resulted in the Nuremberg Code, marked an important milestone in the development and implementation of bioethical principles in medicine. These principles continue to be developed and applied throughout the world today. Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller, Paul Weindling (Oxford Brookes University), Herwig Czech of the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance Movement and Christiane Druml, UNESCO Chair in Bioethics at MedUni Vienna and Chairman of the Bioethics Committee at the Federal Chancellery, once again underscored the significance of these trials.

The doctors were accused of performing medical and pseudo-medical experiments on prisoners in the concentration camps with no consideration for their health or even survival. "It was the Nuremberg Code that first specified that experiments could not be conducted on people without their consent," explained Christiane Druml. "And ever since then, bioethics, human dignity and human rights have been at the heart of all medical research." Even today, 70 years after the trials, it is important to remember them and protect against any repetition, stressed Druml.

The ten-point Nuremberg Code then served as a basis for other medical ethics codes, such as those of UNESCO, the World Medical Association (Declaration of Helsinki) and the European Council. "This serves to ensure that modern medicine is based on bioethical principles, and continues to be," said Druml. Nevertheless, we should not forget what happened back then – making it all the more important to make the younger generations aware of what happened, so that they always adhere to bioethical principles, especially in times when new ethical questions are constantly arising: for example Big Data, embryonic stem cell research and genetic interventions in Nature or the use of gene editing (CRISPR/Cas9). 

Consequently, a symposium is to be held at MedUni Vienna on 2 and 3 March with international speakers on this topic (Van Swieten Hall, MedUni Vienna, Van Swieten-Gasse 1a, 1090 Vienna, 2 March from 10:30 hrs, 3 March from 08:30 hrs).

Nuremberg Doctors' Trial and Nuremberg Code

The medical experiments that were conducted in the concentration camps included altitude tests in vacuum chambers, supercooling tests, experiments with typhus fever, sulphonamide and poisons and experiments to turn seawater into drinking water.

The most significant outcome of the Doctors' Trial is regarded as being the development of the ten-point Nuremberg Code, which paved the way for new standards in medical ethics. The Nuremberg Code is a central, ethical guideline for the planning and performance of medical, psychological and other experiments on humans and states in particular that the person in question must give their voluntary consent and must be in a position to do so without any influence or coercion. 

Event: Medical Ethics in the 70 years after the Nuremberg Code, 1947 to the Present
The symposium will take place on 2 and 3 March 2017 in the Van Swieten Hall at MedUni Vienna and includes numerous well-known international speakers. Admission is free but you are encouraged to register: Speakers include: Volker Roelke, University of Giessen, Sabine Hildebrandt, Harvard University, William E. Seidelman (University of Toronto and Beer-Sheva, Israel), Andrew Weinstein (Department of the History of Art, New York), Urban Wiesing (University of Tübingen), Jonathan Moreno (University of Pennsylvania), Michael Makanga (European and Developing Countries Clinical Partnership, Den Haag) and Renzong Qui (Institute of Philosophy, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Peking), holder of the UNESCO Avicenna Prize for Ethics in Science. The event is being organised in collaboration with the Federal Chancellery, the Documentation Archive of the Austrian Resistance Movement and the Vienna Medical Association.

Further information and programme: