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November 27, 1996

The Social Responsibilities of Health Professionals: Lessons From Their Role in Nazi Germany

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Epidemiology and Social Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY.

JAMA. 1996;276(20):1679-1681. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540200065034

The actions of health professionals in Nazi Germany are being extensively discussed during this 50th anniversary year of the Doctors Trial at Nuremberg. Much of the discussion has centered on medical experimentation on prisoners in the Nazi death camps. The Nuremberg Code, the Declaration of Helsinki, and other codes that in part arose from the trial have assumed major importance in the design of research on humans, the selection of subjects and the assurance of their free and informed consent, and reporting the results of the research.1

German health professionals participated in or passively accepted the rise of Nazi Germany.2-9 As described elsewhere in this issue by Barondess,10 and based on the work of Lifton4 and Proctor,5,6 efforts to achieve "racial hygiene" in Germany included the sterilization of an estimated 200000 to 400000 Germans4-6 and the practice of "euthanasia" to exterminate "life unworthy of