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March 5, 1997

The Nuremberg Code, German Law, and Prominent Physician-Thinkers

Author Affiliations

Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons New York, NY

JAMA. 1997;277(9):709. doi:10.1001/jama.1997.03540330031016

To the Editor.  —For all its strengths, the reappraisal of the Nuremburg Code by Dr Katz1 slights the past when he insists that "occasional voices to the contrary, little thought had been given to patient's consent." He correctly notes the absence of formal codes, but prominent physicians gave ample and sustained thought to the ethics of human experimentation, including consent. Indeed, far more consensus existed on principles than Katz suggests.In 1907, for example, William Osler, in "The Evolution of the Idea of Experiment,"2 required investigators to obtain the consent of the subject: "For man absolute safety and full consent are the conditions which make such tests allowable. We have no right to use patients entrusted to our care for the purpose of experimentation unless direct benefit to the individual is likely to follow. Once this limit is transgressed, the sacred cord which binds physician and patient snaps instantly." So too,