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Nazi Medicine and the Legacy of the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial

by SKeira Jul 15, 2015
When Apr 03, 2006
from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Where Foster Auditorium, 101 Pattee Library
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D.Phil., Oxon; Fellow of the Royal Historical Society; Senior Lecturer in Modern History University of Kent, Canterbury


Dr. Ulf Schmidt is a Senior Lecturer in Modern History at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He was previously Wellcome Trust Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Senior Associate Member of St. Antony’s College and Research Associate at the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Oxford. Dr Schmidt’s expertise is in the area of the history of modern medical ethics and policy in twentieth-century Europe and America. He has published widely on the history of Weimar and Nazi Germany, the history of human experimental abuse, the history of the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial and the Nuremberg Code, the history of eugenics, euthanasia and racial policy, and the history of medical film. He is the author of numerous articles, chapters in books and book reviews, and two books:Medical Films, Ethics and Euthanasia in Germany, 1933-1945 (Husum, Matthiesen, 2002); and Justice at Nuremberg: Leo Alexander and the Nazi Doctors’ Trial (Basingstoke, Macmillan/Palgrave, 2004; paperback, 2006). Dr. Schmidt is currently completing a comprehensive biography of Hitler’s Doctor, Karl Brandt, which is to be published by London Books in 2006/7, and an edited volume on The History and Theory of Human Experimentation: The Declaration of Helsinki and Modern Medical Ethics, which will be published jointly with Professor Frewer from Germany. In 2003/4, Dr. Schmidt also received a three-year Wellcome grant to investigate the history and ethics of human experiments in Britain’s biological and chemical warfare programme during the Cold War.

Nazi Medicine and the Legacy of the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial

Nazi medicine raises profound questions about medical and research ethics. How was it possible that men and women sworn to the Hippocratic tradition of "nihil nocere", trained as professionals in one of the most advanced scientific cultures, could disregard the dignity of human beings, ignore principles of informed consent, beneficence and care and ultimately commit crimes of previously unseen proportions? Did they know that they were committing a crime? How did they sanction their role? The history of medicine under Nazism strongly conflicts with traditional views and expectations of professional medical conduct. The lecture explores the complexities surrounding these issues and places them into a wider political history of medicine and history of ideas. How do political formations shape the understanding of ethics and the code of conduct of the medical profession? How can we explain that most of the doctors did not value the life of the individual higher than their duty towards the state, the community, the party or the Führer? The lecture will also reconstruct the origins of the Nuremberg Doctors' Trial, and assess the impact of the Nuremberg Code, a ten-point medical ethics code that laid down, for the first time, unmistakable and in writing, the human rights of patient-subjects and the responsibilities of physician-researchers conducting experiments on humans.