Nuremberg's Legacy: Law, Medicine & Ethics

Southern Illinois University



Nuremberg's Legacy: Law, Medicine & Ethics

Overview of WWII’s Medical & Legal Atrocities and the Implications for Modern Medical and Legal Practice 

Whenever the atrocities of the Holocaust are examined, the pivotal role of physicians and lawyers is considered. The inevitable question is: "How could 'they' have sanctioned such evil?" This session will discuss the biology of behavior and show how the neuroscience of moral decision making not only informs our legal opinions but complicates them, as well. The session will also delve into the future applications of what it means to be human from a legal lens as we contemplate emerging technologies.

When Ethics Fail: The Lawyers, Judges, and Doctors of the Third Reich

Background and history of lawyers, judges, and doctors of the Third Reich. Prosecution of lawyers, judges, and doctors. Overview of scientific literature on human instinct to obey authority, and implications for responsible practice. Ethical issues for lawyers, judges, doctors, and other legal and medical professionals during wartime.

This session describes ethical arguments offered by Nazi physicians to demonstrate that they had done the right thing; ways that their arguments are dismissed and marginalized, yet persist; the German Medical Association’s recent apology for the medical professions’ involvement in Nazi atrocities; the “Doctors’ Trial” at Nuremberg; and the key provisions and basis for the Nuremberg Code.

The Epidemic of Mass Incarceration and the Implications for Attorneys and Medical Professionals 

In a report released in March 2009, the Pew Center on the States concluded that 2.3 million adults in the United States were in prison or jail. This represented 1 out of every 100 adults. Given these statistics, it should come as no surprise that the United States has the world’s largest prison population. Though we represent only 5% of the world’s population, we have almost 25% of the world’s prisoners. One of the many ramifications of this reality is the resulting complexities in dealing with elderly prisoners. This session will explore the phenomenon of mass incarceration and consider the consequences of an aging prison population for attorneys and medical professionals. Legal and ethical issues related to prisoner participation as human subjects for research will also be discussed.

Prosecuting War Criminals: From Nuremberg to Guantanamo 

This session will begin with an examination of the application of international criminal law prior to World War II.  Consideration will then be given to the creation of the Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals after WWII and the legacy of these tribunals. The session will then explore the creation of the military commissions at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and compare the creation of these commissions to the creation of the Nuremberg tribunals after WWII. As part of the examination of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the session will explore the role of “enhanced interrogations” during the “War on Terror.”

The session will then briefly summarize current thinking by medical organizations about involvement by U.S. health professionals in torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody, as well as about changes the U.S. Department of Defense made in ethical standards and policies to rationalize and facilitate medical professionals’ participation in interrogation. In addition the presentation describes major similarities and differences between Nazi experiments and the American experiments in torture (“enhanced interrogation” and “enhanced intelligence techniques”), as well as emerging legal and professional consequences in the U.S. and elsewhere for today’s physicians who torture,as well as for those who participate in executions.

The Organization, Finance, and Regulation of Health Care in Germany 

This session will focus on how the German health care system is organized and structured, how the system addresses such issues as access to care, and how health care is financed in Germany. Additionally, this session will look at the governmental and professional structures in place to regulate the delivery of health care in Germany including issues involving patient safety and the quality of care.

Nuremberg’s Medical-Legal Legacy 

This session answers the following questions: How has human subject research regulation in the U.S. been influenced by the Nuremberg Code? What is the status of the Nuremberg Code in international and U.S. law? Since the Nuremberg Code does not address sterilization and euthanasia, what legal safeguards in the U.S. are intended to prevent legal physician aid in dying from devolving into involuntary euthanasia? What legal safeguards are intended to prevent involuntary sterilization?