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Should Unethically Obtained Nazi Data be used for Current Research?
During World War II, Nazi doctors committed atrocious crimes in the name of research against their Jewish prisoners. This research done in such a way that never can or should be done again, plays an important role in science. We must allow researchers to use Nazi data to add light to their research, however only if it is the only source for the data they need to improve their research or findings.
To understand the full breadth of the Nazis’ research practices you must examine some of the Nazi research history leading up to the Nuremberg trials of 1946. These trials, which eventually led to laws regulating human subject research and convictions against sixteen of the twenty doctors charged with war crimes, crimes against, humanity and conspiracy.
When explaining the brutality of the research Baruch C. Cohen in “Jewish Law Articles” says the “acts of torture were characterized by several shocking features: (1) persons were forced to become subjects in very dangerous studies against their will. (2) Nearly all subjects endured incredible suffering, mutilation, and indescribable pain. (3) The experiments often were deliberately designed to terminate in a fatal outcome for their victims.”
Hitler’s doctors performed numerous experiments on the Jewish subjects with military intelligence goals in mind, they slept at night claiming the subjects were condemned to death anyway. Some of these experiments were:
1. Freezing experiments, prisoners were immersed into tanks of ice water for hours at a time, often shivering to death. The researcher’s goal here was to determine how long Germany pilot could survive if they were shot down over the ocean.
2. High altitude experiments, researchers here wanted to determine the effects of high altitude on pilots. They placed the Jewish prisoners in altitude decompression chambers, examining how much pressure the human body can take. Doctors would open the skull and examine the brain while the subjects were still alive to see the effects leading up to death. Those who survived the altitude tests were subject to execution.
3. Tuberculosis experiments, the Nazis conducted experiments to determine whether or not the human body had any natural immunity to TB. Healthy Jews were injected with TB and left to face whatever natural consequences arose.
4. Sulfanilamide experiments, to study the effects of German war wounds the researchers reenacted similar wounds on the prisoners. Sulfanilamide was a drug thought to aid in war wound recovery. Jews were deliberately infected with gangrene and tetanus, and had both ends of their veins tied to stop the circulation of blood, this created a similar condition to war.
There were many other experiments done but these were a few of the more notorious and popular. Nearly half of the participants were killed as a direct result of the research the remaining subjects were executed. Once again I realize the tragedy in these experiments but feel we must not have these lives go to waste, the research should be used if there are no other alternatives.
Many feel the research that was ascertained through these horrible means should never see the light of day. Cohen from the “Jewish Law Articles” asks the question “If the experiments were conducted in an unethical manner, can the results be considered scientifically reliable,” those opposed to using the data would say no.
Nazi concentration camp science is often branded as bad science. First, it is doubtful that the subject’s results will generalize across those people the research was intended to benefit. Secondly, additional doubts about the integrity of the doctors and their results must surface when you consider the Nazi doctors’ political aspirations and their beliefs in the perfect race. Lastly, the fact that the results were never published, replicated, or validated raises doubts in many people’s minds about the data’s scientific accuracy and subsequent use.
The prior example of the freezing experiments has come into much controversy. Historians suggested several reasons for the inconsistent data that was gathered. The most widely used theory states that the researcher was under orders from the top of the Nazi hierarchy to produce results, thereby dressing up the findings for submittal. Many other experiments are claimed to have been tainted as well as the doctors credentials themselves.
Once again I feel it is necessary to use the data obtained by the Nazi doctors given two things, the data was obtained accurately and there are no other means for getting data on the specific subject.
The counterclaim stated that research with incorrect data entries and other errors should not be used. I completely agree, however some of the research was pioneering and innovative. What is unfortunate is that the worlds most horrendous entrapment has produced some of the most progressive scientific discoveries known to man. As Robert Protor put it in “New Scientist” (June 19, 99) “what has to be recognized is that good science can travel with bad politics.” Nazi researchers were contrary to popular belief the first doctors to study the connection between tobacco and lung cancer. American and British researchers take credit however Nazis were studying their prisoners who used tobacco 25 years before either of the aforementioned countries. Nazi research showed that those having lung cancer were six times more likely to be heavy smokers.
The integrity of the physicians was mentioned in the counterclaim. There were definitely doctors out there who were not qualified to be doing the experiments they were in charge of. These were the doctors who were only interested in the extermination of the Jews. However, the majority of researchers were as Proctors puts it “not just monsters or scientific outsiders, but prestigious scholars who were pioneering medical research even as they planned mass murder.” The pseudoscience that was done, for example the amputation experiments, has no place in any researcher’s data or in research generally for that matter. What the opposition must realize is that those experiments were done maliciously and there were many done with science in mind, unfortunately human life was sacrificed to obtain these results.
Basically the strongest point for my claim has to be that much of the research was pioneering and innovative, these findings should be included in studies where no other source would give adequate results. Good can emerge from evil, I believe we do an injustice to the Jews who suffered so greatly and no benefit comes from this suffering. There is the potential to save lives contained inside the Nazi documents, therefore I feel when it comes to mattes of life and death the data should also be used.
Cohen parallel’s using Nazi data to bathing with a bar of human soap from Auschwitz. I have to disagree with this preferring to look at the situation in a hospital setting. For me leaving the data locked up is like throwing away a healthy heart ready for a needy donor because the donor had some terrible character flaw. Banning the publication and citation of the Nazi researcher’s work would allow people to forget such studies ever existed
Even though I feel the data should be used this does not mean I view the Nazi research like that of a Pavlov, there must be precautions and special considerations taken when using the data. I feel the morally appropriate policy would be to allow the data to be used for life saving and other situations where there are no other options, however a condemnation of the practices used to obtain the data must be included. The researcher who is prepared to site the Nazi data must also be prepared to completely expose the atrocities committed against the subjects will.
In conclusion I must restate my claim to avoid any confusion. I completely disagree and condemn the practices used to acquire the Nazi data. This however doesn’t change the fact that some significant data was accumulated, some very pioneering data at that.
The data collected on freezing, altitude, TB, cancer, etc. will never be done again, thankfully. This being the case these are some of the only known human experiments of this type. In the data lies potential life saving information as well as pseudoscientific rhetoric. Obviously, eliminating the pseudoscience is in order. The harder question is when should the accurate and valid data be used. In my opinion as stated previously, the data should only be used when there are no other alternatives. When this data is used there must be a section in the paper exposing the terrible crimes committed against the unwilling Jewish prisoners.
The way this pioneering data was discovered was disgusting and wrong. There are two main reasons why we cannot keep the data locked away. First, absence and time will allow people to forget about the crimes. Secondly, there is potential lifesaving info contained in the documents. Lets not make a bad situation worse by locking up the data and throwing away the key. Don’t let the Jewish prisoners suffering go to waste, allow the data that they made possible save a life, thereby equating things in the life cycle.
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