II. A Brief History of Research Ethics Violations and Regulation

In 1946 the atrocities committed by Nazi scientists in the name of research were investigated in War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg (often called the "Nuremberg Trials"). 16 doctors and administrators were found guilty of "willing participation in the systematic torture, mutilation, and killing of prisoners in experiments." *

This led to development of the Nuremberg Code in 1947. The Nuremberg Code was the first international code of research ethics. It mandated that research involving human beings must follow 10 basic directives, including:

  • voluntary, informed consent from research participants; 
  • no coercion to participate in research; 
  • only properly trained scientists should carry out research; 
  • any risks must be outweighed by the humanitarian benefits of the research; 
  • research should be designed to minimize risk and suffering
  • participants can end the experiment at any time, and researchers must stop the research if it becomes apparent that the outcomes are clearly harmful.

Reference: NIH, Protecting Human Research Participants, p.11-13; http://phrp.nihtraining.com/users/pdf.php

p6The Nuremberg Trials, looking down on the defendants' dock, circa 1945-1946.source: National Archives Collection of World War II War Crimes Records, 1933 – 1950