The nuremberg doctors' trial : framing collective memory through argument
Srader, Doyle Wade
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In 1946, a military tribunal constituted by the United States government put twenty-three physicians and medical support staffers from the recently defeated German Nazi regime on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity consisting of participation in medical experiments conducted on concentration camp inmates. The trial produced sixteen convictions, seven acquittals, and the Nuremberg Code, which remains to this day a founding document in biomedical ethics. The Code does not mark a consensus, but rather an enduring controversy, in the medical field. This study examines the role of constitutive elements of argument in the framing of collective memory about the Nazi medical experiments within the specialized community of medical professionals. Findings included the core elements of the prosecution's proposed frame, points of stasis between prosecution and defense, and the tribunal's incorporation of the broad sweep of the prosecution's case with some of the defense's pleas of extreme necessity in the verdicts. From the state of human subject research ethics pre-Nuremberg to the present date, a definite break and alignment into enduring positions is discernible, which first appears at Nuremberg. The trial thus reconfigured discursive space and both opened up and channeled the possibility of deliberation on ethical matters in the global medical community.