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The Nuremberg Medical Trial and the Origins of Informed Consent

When Jan 30, 2006
from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM
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Wellcome Trust Research Professor in the History of Medicine, Oxford Brookes University

Professor Paul Weindling’s research covers evolution and society, public health, and human experimentation post-1800. He has especial interests in eugenics, human experiments, corporate philanthropies like the Rockefeller Foundation, and medical refugees. Research in progress is as follows:

  1. Arising from research on Nazi medical war crimes and the origins of informed consent, he is trying to establish how many victims of Nazi human experiments there were, and who they were. The aim is to establish a comprehensive analysis for reference purposes.
  2. European Medical Refugees in Great Britain, 1930s to 50s. This research is based on a database of nearly 4800 medical refugees, as well as textual archives held in the Centre. The aim is to evaluate the place of the refugees in the overall context of the modernisation of British medicine. The records cover medical researchers, medical practitioners, dental surgeons, psychoanalysts, psychologists, nurses, and all other health-related occupations. Children are included who came as refugees to the UK.
  3. International Health in the Twentieth Century. This project examines the shift from international sanitary agreements to major organisations for international health. The Rockefeller Foundation played a key role in the interwar period, and raises controversies concerning imperialism and the social implications of professionalisation. A crucial issue is the extent that international organisations were expected to be subservient to governments or whether they could take autonomous initiatives.
  4. Eugenics as an International Movement. This study considers the origins of eugenics as an organised movement on an international basis. Particular attention is paid to the spread of eugenics societies and their membership, and to the support for eugenics of philanthropists and foundations.
  5. “Sage of Anxiety." This is a biographical project on the remarkable life of John West Thompson. This confronts the issue of medical science in the post-Holocaust era.

The Nuremberg Medical Trial and the Origins of Informed Consent

Sixty years ago, the Nuremberg Medical Trial revealed horrific abuses in Nazi medical research. At its close on 19 August 1947, the judges pronounced a set of principles on permissible human experiments. These required that the investigator should explain to the subjects the purpose, procedures and risks of the experiment. The idea of informed consent has become the cornerstone of all modern medical research and clinical medicine. I will trace the story of the origins of the Nuremberg Code from when Allied medical officers heard about the Nazi scientific atrocities from released prisoners, to the Nuremberg Medical Trial. We find that the research subject, and medical understanding of the victim is at the core of the story.