Nuremberg Code

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Concept.png Nuremberg Code 
(Law,  Bioethics,  Human experimentation)Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
The Nuremberg Code is a set of research ethics principles for human experimentation set as a result of the subsequent Nuremberg trials at the end of WWII.


On August 20, 1947,[1] the judges delivered their verdict in the "Doctors' Trial" against Karl Brandt and 22 others. These trials focused on doctors involved in the human experiments in concentration camps.[2] The suspects were involved in over 3,500,000 sterilizations of German citizens. The trials began on December 9, 1946 in Nuremberg, Germany and were led exclusively by the United States. Harry Truman approved these trials in January 1946.[3] Several of the accused argued that their experiments differed little from pre-war ones and that there was no law that differentiated between legal and illegal experiments. In May of the same year, Dr. Leo Alexander had submitted to the Counsel for War Crimes six points defining legitimate medical research. The trial verdict adopted these points and added four. The ten points constituted the "Nuremberg Code".

The ten points of the Nuremberg Code

These are:

  1. Required is the voluntary, well-informed, understanding consent of the human subject in a full legal capacity.
  2. The experiment should aim at positive results for society that cannot be procured in some other way.
  3. It should be based on previous knowledge (like, an expectation derived from animal experiments) that justifies the experiment.
  4. The experiment should be set up in a way that avoids unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injuries.
  5. It should not be conducted when there is any reason to believe that it implies a risk of death or disabling injury.
  6. The risks of the experiment should be in proportion to (that is, not exceed) the expected humanitarian benefits.
  7. Preparations and facilities must be provided that adequately protect the subjects against the experiment’s risks.
  8. The staff who conduct or take part in the experiment must be fully trained and scientifically qualified.
  9. The human subjects must be free to immediately quit the experiment at any point when they feel physically or mentally unable to go on.
  10. Likewise, the medical staff must stop the experiment at any point when they observe that continuation would be dangerous.

Lack of legal status

The legal force of the document was not established and no research is known to have been terminated because of the Nuremberg Code, which was not incorporated directly into either the American or German law. US government funded research which contravened it was ongoing (both in USA and Guatemala), as did many new research projects (mostly by the CIA) which were conducted in secret after the Nuremberg Code was agreed upon.

However, together with the Declaration of Helsinki it makes up the basis for the Code of Federal Regulations Title 45 Part 46,[4] which are the regulations issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services governing federally funded human subjects research in the United States.

Public health research

When the code was agreed, the U.S. Public Health Service was engaged in at least two research projects which violated it. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment has been ongoing since 1932, and was only stopped after a whistleblower leaked details to the press in 1972. John Charles Cutler had just started the Guatemala syphilis experiment (outside of USA because of legal concerns) in 1946 and continued it until at least 1953. The existence of this project only came to light in 2005.

Mind Control Research

Later that year, Charles Savage of the US Navy began secret experiments with drugs (Project CHATTER) which violated this code, followed soon after by the multiple CIA 'mind control research' projects (of which MK-Ultra is now the best known).

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  1. Annas, George J., and Michael A. Grodin. The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code. New York, NY: Oxford University Press Inc., 1992. Print.