Research ethics is an important part of experimental design, and seeks to protect the subjects from harm. A profound example of ethical misconduct occurred in the concentration camps managed by the Nazi regime during WWII. To me, it is unfathomable that people could be so apathetic to design and illicit these experiments. The consequences on the subjects were dreadfully painful, scaring, and in many cases fatal.
Dr. Josef Mengele is one of the most famous of the Nazi doctors, performing experiments at both Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps. He took a great interest in experimenting with gypsy children, twins, dwarfs, and those with abnormalities. After forcing the subjects to go through harming and crippling tests, many were killed so that more experimentation could be performed on the corpses.
Experiments were also conducted in order to gain more knowledge about how the military could better persist and prosper during war. For instance, they forced subjects to remain in tanks of ice water or in the snow for long durations of time and then attempted to rewarm their bodies using different methods. They also forced subjects to remain in pressure chambers that were meant to simulate high altitude conditions in order to see how high of an altitude the Air Force could fly.
Seventy medical research programs at Nazi concentration camps with connections to the German medical establishment used human subjects for Pharmaceutical testing of drugs thought to fight infectious diseases or gas poisoning. They also sought to devise new methods to deal with wounds, often breaking the bones of subjects or amputating limbs in order to test new strategies. Over 200 Nazi doctors were involved in these programs, how they did no have a moral dilemma against participation baffles me.
The Nurenberg Trials of 1946 sentenced only 16 of these doctors to death of prison. Some of the doctors disappeared before the trials. The Court set a prescient for modern medical practice, but declaring a set of principles that must be followed in order for research to be moral, ethical and legal. This was called the Nuremberg code, and the principles (obtained here) are as follows:
1. The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.
2. The experiment should be such as to yield fruitful results for the good of society, unprocurable by other methods or means of study, and not random and unnecessary in nature.
3. The experiment should be so designed and based on the results of animal experimentation and a knowledge of the natural history of the disease or other problem under study that the anticipated results will justify the performance of the experiment.
4. The experiment should be so conducted as to avoid all unnecessary physical and mental suffering and injury.
5. No experiment should be conducted where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.
6. The degree of risk to be taken should never exceed that determined by the humanitarian importance of the problem to be solved by the experiment.
7. Proper preparations should be made and adequate facilities provided to protect the experimental subject against even remote possibilities of injury, disability, or death.
8. The experiment should be conducted only by scientifically qualified persons. The highest degree of skill and care should be required through all stages of the experiment of those who conduct or engage in the experiment.
9. During the course of the experiment the human subject should be at liberty to bring the experiment to an end if he has reached the physical or mental state where continuation of the experiment seems to him to be impossible.
10. During the course of the experiment the scientist in charge must be prepared to terminate the experiment at any stage, if he has probably cause to believe, in the exercise of the good faith, superior skill and careful judgment required of him that a continuation of the experiment is likely to result in injury, disability, or death to the experimental subject.
The ethical misconduct of the experimentation done by Nazi Germany forced the establishment of specific guidelines so that such lack of medical ethics will be repeated.
"In the end, most of them died of exhaustion and hunger, and doses of medicines, or they were given lethal injection. A worthless life -- that's what they called it. "Worthless life." That was the official term."
-Antje Kostmund, survivor of the Euthanasia Program
Information about the experiments was found here.
An online exhibition by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum can be found here.