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And in the early 1940s, predominantly African-American prisoners at the Statesville Penitentiary were deliberately infected with malaria.These are only two of the many experiments carried out on vulnerable populations; people who could not be said to have the freedom to consent.Despite the impact of the Nazi doctors’ trial and the promulgation of the new code of ethics, neither the United States nor its European allies, adhered to the code until a series of scandals suggested the need for a closer look at how medicine was conducting itself.
It’s easy, in retrospect, to portray World War II as a major turning point in the history of medical ethics.
But it’s a portrayal we should resist because it blinds us to the troubles that persist to this day in matters of informed consent.
When Germany surrendered in May 1945, the victors’ worst fears were confirmed: the Nazis had committed innumerable and horrific war crimes, including the attempt to annihilate the Jewish people.
So severe were the depredations of Hitler and his henchmen and women that new words were invented to describe their actions: genocide (the obliteration of an entire people) and thanatology (the science of producing death).
This final point was undeniable: in both the United States and Britain, experiments had been carried out on vulnerable groups.
In 1941, for instance, patients at a Michigan state mental hospital were deliberately infected with the influenza virus.Since Kresy migrants were of the same ethnicity and religion as other Poles, we bypass confounding factors of other cases of forced migration.We show that labor market competition with natives and selection of migrants are also unlikely to drive our results.Jews, political prisoners and other “undesirables” were subjected to a range of experiments that resulted in death and disability.The Luftwaffe, for instance, wished to know how to protect and revive pilots shot down in the sea who suffered from hypothermia.Descendants of forced migrants have on average one extra year of schooling, driven by a higher propensity to finish secondary or higher education.This result holds when we restrict ancestral locations to a subsample around the Kresy border and include fixed effects for the destination of migrants.The second was that war was a time of national emergency where sacrifices had to be made for the greater good of the population, particularly troops.But the most interesting was the final defence, which claimed what the Nazi doctors had done was little different from experiments carried out by the allies on their own prison populations, inmates of mental asylums, conscientious objectors and troops.Thousands of disabled and mentally ill people were “euthanased” using a variety of techniques including mass gassing, a method that was later transferred to the extermination camps.As part of trying to find out how Germany, one of the most scientifically sophisticated and humanistic cultures had become so perverted, a military tribunal was established as a corollary to the 13 Nuremberg trials.