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September 5, 2017

The Nuremberg Code 70 Years Later

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy, University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia
  • 2Department of the History and Sociology of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
  • 3School of History, Rutherford College, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent, England
  • 4Division of Oncology, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
JAMA. 2017;318(9):795-796. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.10265

Seventy years ago, on August 20, 1947, the International Medical Tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany, delivered its verdict in the trial of 23 doctors and bureaucrats accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in cruel and often lethal concentration camp medical experiments. As part of its judgment, the court articulated a 10-point set of rules for the conduct of human experiments that has come to be known as the Nuremberg Code. Among other requirements, the code called for the “voluntary consent” of the human research subject, an assessment of risks and benefits, and assurances of competent investigators. These concepts have become an important reference point for the ethical conduct of medical research. Yet, there has in the past been considerable debate among scholars about the code’s authorship, scope, and legal standing in both civilian and military science. Nonetheless, the Nuremberg Code has undoubtedly been a milestone in the history of biomedical research ethics.1-3

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