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Holocaust

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Can you imagine having no rights to your own body? How about being cut open with no sedatives or freezing to death in a tank of ice water? Most of the Holocaust victims who were test subjects in the Nazi medical experiments endured those things. According to Baruch C. Cohen’s “The Ethics Of Using Medical Data From Nazi Experiments,” during the Nuremberg trials after World War II, twenty doctors were convicted and charged with “War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity...revealed evidence of sadistic human experiments conducted at the Dachau, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Sachsenhausen concentration camps” (15). The Nuremberg trials brought fourth the attention to the ethics of the doctors while conducting these experiments. Ethics was a big issue, because there was and is clearly a fine line between research and the well being of a person. Evidently the Nazi doctors did not find what they were doing to be unethical, however the courts obviously disagreed. During the trials many of the Nazi doctors referred to there experiments as purely “research.” This had many scientists and other doctors question whether or not the “research” could still be used after the fact. After World War II, the use of the data and research found from the Nazi’s medical experiments is ethical, even though the process to obtain the data and research was unethical. This idea led to a lot of controversy on whether or not the data was unethical or ethical due to the Nazis breaking the ethics code of medicine. After the triumph of Hitler in 1933 the Nazi’s formed three medical programs in order to have “racial cleansing” (Proctor 36-38). From the book Medicine, Ethics an the Third Reich: Historical and Contemporary Issues, “...the sterilization law, the Nuremberg Laws, and the euthanasia operation” (Proctor 36-38) were the three programs that allowed for the Nazi medical experiments to have such high death tolls. The Sterilization Law made sure people suffering from any genetic illness were forced into being sterilized. So basically if you were not to the liking of the Nazis then you were not allowed to have offspring. The Nuremberg Laws were health regulations the Jewish people had to subject themselves to. Lastly, Hitler started issuing orders to kill anyone who was incurably sick, by euthanasia. This was the start of the extermination of the non-German people. While some doctors were performing the three ways of obtaining “racial cleansing”, most of the doctors at the different concentration camps started performing their own experiments. Each torturous act was characterized by many different features: “1. persons were forced to become subjects in very dangerous studies against their will” (Cohen 3), meaning the inmates did not have to give the doctors consent in order for them to run tests on them. “2. nearly all subjects endured incredible suffering, mutilation, and indescribable pain” (Cohen 3). The Nazi doctors refused to give the inmates any type of medication or sedative, because they wanted the inmates to suffer. Even though the Nazi doctors tried to say that it was all “research” they had one goal in mind, which leads to “3. the experiments often were deliberately designed to terminate in a fatal outcome for their victims” (Cohen 3). This shows that the Nazis were being unethical and they were going against a big part of the Hippocratic oath, “to do no harm”. The Nazi experiments were put into three different categories: “Medico-Military Research; Miscellaneous, Ad Hoc Experiments; and Racially Motivated Experiments” (Cohen 3). The Medico-Military experiments were said to be for military and medical purposes, because they were necessary for the military to gain more knowledge of medical issues during wars. The Nazis also tried to justify themselves by saying that the inmates were going to die anyways, so the experiments did not really make a difference. One of the main experiments the Nazis performed on the male inmates was the hypothermia experiment. They were conducted on men, because the Nazis wanted to see the best way to get to their German soldiers who would freeze to death in the Eastern Front. This experiment was primarily conducted at Dachau, under the supervision of Dr. Weltz and his assistant, Dr. Sigmund Rascher (Bekier 4). This medical experiment was publicized at a medical conference in 1942 titled “Medical Problems Arising from Sea and Winter”. The freezing experiment was broken up into two different parts. They first wanted to see how long it would take to lower the bodies temperature to the point of death and then they wanted to find the best way to resuscitate the victim. In order to freeze the victims the Nazis would put the victim in an icy tank of water for up to eight hours at a time (Bekier 4). Or another method would be to put the victim outside naked and strap them onto a stretcher “in sub-zero temperatures for nine to fourteen hours, as the victims screamed with pain as their bodies froze” (Bekier 5). Since the end of World War II the results for the hypothermia experiment have been made available to medical researchers. A researcher on hypothermia, Dr. Robert Pozos’, researched the different methods of rewarming frozen victims because of the cold. He speculated that the effects of the cold would be seen on a human at freezing temperatures. When finding other peoples research, the only research that had been on humans was from the Nazis medical experiments. “He feels that access to information gathered in the Nazi hypothermia experiments would provide otherwise unobtainable information that could save the lives of many” (Pinchefsky and Grundland 268). What made Pozos’ want to use the Nazis research was the fact that Doctor Rascher found rewarming techniques. He discovered that the body can try and rewarm itself with hot liquids. This helped answer some questions Pozos’ had in his research. Pozos’ was not the only scientist to question whether or not using this data was ethical or not. July of 1946 Dr. Molnar from the University of Rochester physiologist, expressed that he did not see anything ethically wrong while writing about hypothermia survival based on the Nazi data. Many Professors commented on the use of the data and one in particular, Henry K. Beecher of Harvard Medical School, said that by using and publishing the data it would be a moral loss to medicine. However, if you put your morals aside, the data obtained could potentially lead to other researchers theories. A bioethicist at McGill University of Montreal, Dr. Benjamin Freedman, said there was no reason to ignore the data that could help people. Freedman said, “We are talking of the use of the data, not participation in these heinous studies, not replication of atrocities” (Wilkerson 2). There are many opposing positions on whether or not the hypothermia data should be used. “Arnold Relman, editor-in-chief of the Journal, has noted that the Nazi experiments “are such a gross violation of human standards that they are not to be trusted at all”” (Berger 1). A physician-scientist, Andrew Ivy, also argues that the data had no medical value. However, several investigators have stood behind the data stating that it is “good science even though it has offensive ethics” (Berger 1). Bioethicist, Dr. Arthur Caplan, stated “I don’t think lives hang in the balance, I think we can find out what we need to know from other sources” (Bekier 5). This is a great argument, that we should look into other sources, but no other sources had humans as their test subject. This is a big deal because there are no alternative sources that scientists can potentially gain new information from. Another case of a doctor wanting to use the data was Doctor John Hayward. He too, was testing hypothermia, but instead he focused on the testing of cold water survival suits that were worn on fishing boats. He used records on how long it took the human body to drop to fatal temperatures so he could create a warm suit. Hayward wanted to justify himself in saying, “I don’t want to have to use the Nazi data, but there is no other and will be no other in an ethical world... I’m trying to make something constructive out of it” (Cohen 9). Because both men, Pozos’ and Hayward, gained better knowledge of being able to survive in cold water, it is almost absurd to not use the data from the Nazi experiments. The director of the Jakobovits Center for Jewish Medical Ethics at Ben Gurion University in Beersheba, Israel, Dr. Velvl Greene, actually took the side that the data could benefit the medical field, because it confronts the wrongs of the Nazi physicians (Wilkerson 2). During WWII, acute toxicity of phosgene was performed on humans. Doctor Bickenbach was ordered to find a way to protect Germans against this poisonous gas. In 1989, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), made regulations on phosgene due to the fact that it affected the lungs of people who lived near manufacturing plants that processed the gas at that time (Cohen 10). The only research the EPA had that was to simulate humans, was on animals. Fortunately for them, the Nazi doctors had published work of their phosgene experiments. However, the EPA did not want to feel unethical and therefore did not use the Nazi findings. If the Nazis medical findings had been used by the EPA, “The Nazi phosgene data could have saved the lives of the residents who live near the manufacturing plant... potential to save the lives of our American Troops stationed in the Persian Gulf, in the event of a chemical attack by Sadam Hussein” (Cohen 11). If anything, it is ridiculous that the EPA did not use the data, because it potentially could prevent phosgene poisoning. Even if the data was just looked at, the EPA could have gotten a sense of how they could help people who could be potentially exposed to the chemical. Even though many scientists want to write off that the Nazis ever had these unethical experiments, it goes to show that the data does exist and even though it is morally unjust, one cannot deny that perhaps the doctors helped “benefit” society (Cohen 17). If the data is intended to be used to save lives then the data should be used. However, many scholars argue that the use of the data would give respect to the Nazi doctors and a sort of disrespect towards the victims. If scientists use the data purely for a benefit towards medicine and preserve the victims memories then the data would and can be considered ethical to use. It does not seem proper to completely censor the Nazis data to the world. Especially if the data can save lives or answer other medical mysteries. Because some of the Nazis data is of great value to the medical world, then morally it is important to utilize the data while “condemning the atrocities” (Cohen 26). Meaning it would be absolutely necessary to express the disapproval of the Nazis process for the experiments. The researcher needs to make sure that they are clear in what they are trying to convey when using the data and it must be evident that the main goal is to save lives. Dr. Ephraim Zuroff, the director of The Simon Wiesenthal Center said, “If Pozos’ dedicated his study to the memory of those victims of the Nazis, it would serve as a nice way of reminding people about the horrible experiments” (Bekier 5). Dr. Zurrof’s idea of dedicating a study to the victims of the Holocaust can also help prevent inhumane medical experiments happen again. During WWII, the Nazi doctors were guided by utilitarian moral principles, which meant they did not need informed consent from the victims (Bekier 7). Because of the utilitarian moral code, the Nazis had no problem with cleansing the people who the Nazis believed to not belong. The medical experiments performed were done in a utilitarian manor. The prisoners were never seen as human, therefore when it was time to eliminate them and the victims said no, it was disregarded because of the fact that they were less than human (Bekier 7). Today the population is continually growing and many people in the public worry about their rights as subjects in research. A law was signed on July 12, 1974, called the National Commission fro the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research (Bekier 7). There are guidelines that researchers must obey when conducting research on a human subject, they are as follows, “Respect for persons (autonomy of the individual and individuals with diminished autonomy are entitled to protection). Beneficence (the obligation to do no harm and to maximize possible benefits. Justice (fairness)” (Bekier 7). Even though the Nazi doctors’ actions cannot be dismissed, understanding how they had to operate could potentially allow someone to overlook the ethical problems and utilize the research data. During WWII the Nazi doctors went against almost all of the Hippocratic Oaths concepts. Instead of being a doctor, they became licensed killers (Pinchefsky and Grundland 270). Most of the doctors at the time believed in Nazi racial hygiene. Which basically meant the cleansing of all races that were inferior to the Nazis. In the defense of the Nazis, they were taught that they should apply eugenics to cleansing the inferior elements, which happened to be anyone of “the Aryan race, namely Jews, Gypsies and homosexuals” (Pinchefsky and Grundland 271). Strangely enough, the cleansing movement became an accepted part of medical science, due to the fact that there were formal courses taught on racial hygiene to the German medical schools. This evidence shows that yes, the Nazi medical experiments were indeed unethical, but they thought what they were doing was right. Just because their way of research was unethical certainly does not mean that they had unjust data.

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