Nazi ethics

“In the interest of...saving lives, is it acceptable to make use of data collected through mutilation, torture, and death” (Campbell, 16)? That is the question which has been rearing its head in scientific research since the end of World War II. As man has sought to quench his thirst for knowledge, lines of ethicality have been drawn to preserve the integrity of science, and provide a framework from which man can improve upon the quality of human life. In Nazi concentration and death camps, the gruesome sibling of science matured. Nazi scientists, physicians, and scholars tore down the ethical framework of science in order to eliminate the genetically inferior, and ultimately, attempt to forge a ‘pure’ race of ‘super-humans’. Members of the Nazi scientific community were to serve as “alert biological soldiers” (Crum, 33). These ‘soldiers’ conducted research on non-consenting camp inmates in order to “demonstrate a hereditary basis for group differences in behavioral and physical characteristics” in humans (Caplan, 286). The most well known experiments in this regard were the experiments conducted on twins at Auschwitz.

The other goal of the Nazi scientists was to provide human data that could be applied to the war effort. Experimentation of this sort mainly probed the extremes, which the human body could tolerate in a hostile environment. The most famous experiment of this sort was the ‘Dachau Hypothermia Study.’ The rationale of the experiments was as follows:

“A consequence of air combat and air campaigns was that pilots were shot down and landed in cold water. In addition, the German Navy was losing a large number of personnel in the cold North Sea. There were no data available to document how long the downed pilots could survive in the frigid North Sea. The solution to these questions, as well as others, was considered important by certain groups of Nazi administrators and scientists. From a historical point of view, at that time, the number of papers that had been published that dealt with human response to cold water and/or air was very limited...therefore, the German scientists were seeking answers to “legitimate scientific goals” (Caplan, 98).

The last line, “...German scientists were seeking answers to ‘legitimate scientific goals’”, is the statement which is the prime concern of this paper.

In order to accomplish their ‘goals,’ Nazi scientists conducted human experiments, virtually all of which, ended in the subjects’ murder. How can answers to ‘legitimate scientific goals’ be found in murder? Should these experiments even be considered ‘science’? Furthermore, should these experiments be allowed to provide quotable data to the modern scientific community?

The debate on whether or not science should allow referencing to Nazi data rages. Objectors to using Nazi data, state that by using the data from the Nazis’ human experimentation, researchers are not only endorsing, but also encouraging future unethical research. In addition, objectors maintain that the Nazi research was poorly designed and conducted so haphazardly, that it really doesn’t even qualify as ‘scientific’. They state, “scientific results depended upon protocols which were soaked in iniquity. In many experiments, it was ‘control subjects’, denied treatment, who suffered most and died. ‘Sample size’ meant truck loads of Jews. ‘Significance’ was an indication of misery, and ‘response rate’ a measure of torment” (Dixon, 31).

Objectors to the use of Nazi research believe that nothing good will come from this research. They believe that using research gathered through murder endorses the methods used in the experiments. If this statement were to be contested, they would argue that to cite research is to say ‘I believe in this work’. To believe in research, one must be inclined to repeat the original work and further investigate the topic. Objectors claim that this condition is never satisfied. They state, “We do not, to be specific, replicate the Nazi experiments. ‘We’ do not do it. The Nazis did” (Campbell, 18). Objectors believe that a scientist above all else is a human, thus, he must recognize himself as a moral being. Since humans were murdered in these experiments, the data collected should be considered ‘tainted’. No moral being should associate with tainted data.

Objectors also believe that the methodology of these experiments cannot be considered ‘science’. In regard to the infamous hypothermia experiments at Dachau, United States Brigadier General Telford Taylor, claimed that, “these experiments revealed nothing which civilized medicine can use” (Moe, 5). Further opinions from objectors dissect the reliability of the research. Arnold Relman, editor of the <i>New England Journal of Medicine</i>, states that Nazi experiments “are such a gross violation of human standards that they are not to be trusted at can you trust a man who would do that?” (Moe, 6). Therefore, obviously the Nazi data suffers from credibility issues. Another opinion expressed in Moe’s article was that “If they [Nazis] had never done these experiments, science would be no different today” (6). It is clear that objectors do not believe that the research done by the Nazis was science. They maintain that the moral and ethical aspects of research must be the motivating factors behind scientific endeavors.

Proponents of Nazi research, on the other hand, argue that the information provided by the Nazis is indispensable to some areas of modern science. Most supporters concede that the data was obtained through gruesome, inhumane means. They point out, however, that such large-scale human experimentation has never been conducted elsewhere. Therefore, because the research is impossible to replicate, scientists have a need, in certain instances, to utilize this research in the interest of saving lives. They further point out that a significant majority of Nazi data “satisfies all the criteria of objective and accurate observation and interpretation” (Moe, 6).

Proponents favor salvaging all the good that they can out of the murder of camp inmates. Angell states “we should redeem whatever small benefits we can from the nightmare” (1462). An example would be the case of the Dachau hypothermia experiments. In these experiments inmates were outfitted in German pilot gear and then submerged at various depths in ice water pools. All of the subjects died. Today, the only documented data on human hypothermia has been either extrapolated from animal data, or gathered from accident reports. In the case of the animal data, researchers must make many assumptions that cannot be proven to be correct. Therefore, the data, which is generated, is subject to error. Accidental exposure to hypothermia that has been documented through accident reports gives greater insight but still suffers from a major problem. The core temperature of the victim is known only in two states, before and after the exposure. Therefore, only guesses can be made as to how the body reacts to deadlier temperature drops. John S. Hayward of the University of Victoria, uses the Nazi data. He uses it to obtain cooling curves, which help him, design protective suits which will protect people at deadly temperatures. He states, “I don’t want to have to use this data, but there is no other and will be no other in an ethical not use it would be equally bad. I’m trying to make something constructive of it” (Moe, 5).

Some scholars argue that Nazi research ending in murder is no different, in terms of outcome, too military service. They argue that the differences between war and Nazi research are a means to the same end. They argue, “Some people were ordered to face bullets and storm a hill; others take an injection and test a vaccine...[researchers] did not need to seek the permission of their subjects any more than the...field commanders” (Rothman, 1198). Hence, proponents might argue that to cite Nazi research would be very similar to citing the historical significance of a battle.

Proponents also argue that Nazi research was conducted through a scientific method, the data collected was accurate, and therefore, these experiments should indeed, be considered science. Proponents argue that propaganda was likely used to mold opinion in regards to the Nazi research. They believe “denial of scientific validity of Nazi research may have become entrenched partly to distance the Nazi doctors from postwar researchers” (Moe, 5). In addition, proponents argue that the following conclusions can be made in regards to scientific validity of the research:

“1. There was a rationale for the experiments;

2. - The experiments were conducted by trained scientists who had experience in [that] area of science...

3. - The data was presented to various scientific audiences in Nazi Germany

4. - The information has been referenced by scientists since World War II who are knowledgeable in this area; and

5. - No one has scientifically debunked the major findings” (Caplan, 102)

From this evidence, proponents therefore adhere to their beliefs that the Nazi research should be considered science.

Supporting one view in this debate is most likely not the correct solution. Instead, researchers must determine on their own what significance their actions hold. In this way, the topic evolves.

To censor the use of Nazi data is retroactive to science. As Buchanan states, “If exclude from use all the experiments now viewed as unethical, you’d have to tear up half the medical textbooks” (Moe, 7). However, some believe to cite Nazi research is “to become an onlooker, and beyond that, an accomplice” (Campbell, 18).

Most uninformed individuals believe that this debate really has no significance to them. In speaking with peers, many are of the attitude, ‘Who cares? The Nazis lost the War. It’s all in the past, its not like that stuff happened anywhere else.’ It is important to note however, that even in a democracy such as the U. S., this kind of research has happened. This nation, which condemned the Nazis and passed Nuremburg Laws to safeguard science, has a checkered past of unethical research. Examples are widespread, ranging from the radiation experiments conducted on the victims at Nagasaki and Hiroshima, to the injection of retarded individuals (<i>Institutionalized U. S. citizens</i>) with various diseases such as malaria, dysentery, and influenza. Clearly, the Nazi research is not isolated in time or geography.

Regretfully, a conclusion cannot be drawn from the argument of citing Nazi research. Being too quick to censor Nazi cited research could be deleterious not only to science but also to society as a whole. Crum warns that “in the Western world there is a form of anti-Nazi ‘bigotry’...that could lead us to adopt the same erroneous public policies ourselves” (31). Being too relaxed in the standards of scientific research, on the other hand, allows the possibility of repeating history. Safeguards, must be in place to discourage and punish acts of unethical research, otherwise people could once again find themselves in the grasp of horrific experimenters. It must be understood that the Nazis were human, their experiments had goals, and they sought knowledge much like scholars of the present. Therefore instead of censoring and debating, maybe, “We should make an effort to stop using the experience of Nazism as a metaphor for ‘The Cosmic Evil’ and instead try to read it like a warning label on a bottle under our own kitchen sinks” (Crum, 31).

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30 June 2014. Author: Criticism