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Beyond the age of consent: clinical research in the neurologically or cognitively impaired

Roop Gursahani

DOI: 10.20529/IJME.2009.035


The Nuremberg trials of Nazi war criminals were conducted over 60 years ago. The first of these 12 trials was the “Doctors Trial”. Of the 23 defendants, 20 were German physicians arraigned for major roles in the human experiments carried out at Auschwitz and other concentration camps. As part of their defence some of the accused argued that there was no law that specifically banned human experimentation. The judges at the trial delivered their verdict in August 1947 and seven of the defendants including five doctors received the death sentence. As part of their judgment the judges included their opinion on human experimentation for medical research. This was largely based on the submissions of an American neurologist of Austrian-Jewish origin, Leo Alexander. The 10 points that emerged constitute the Nuremberg Code. The Declaration of Helsinki follows from this code and although neither the Code nor the Declaration directly have any legal validity, they have been incorporated into the various national legislations that codify medical ethics principles governing human experimentation.

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