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BMJ 1996; 313 doi: (Published 07 December 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:0

The issues raised by the Nuremberg trials are as relevant in 1996 as in 1946

The Nuremberg trials of doctors who had committed war crimes during the second world war began 50 years ago this week. The BMJ has devoted many pages in this issue to exploring the Nuremberg trials, what went before, and their aftermath for two main reasons. Firstly, we must never forget. On the wall of the highly moving United States Holocaust Museum is a quote from Deuteronomy: “Only guard yourself and your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw.” Secondly, the issues thrown up by the trials-informed consent for experimentation, the involvement of the doctors with the state, patient autonomy, genocide, and the behaviour of doctors when associated with abuses of human rights-are as relevant today as the day the trials began. Indeed, there is a sense, particularly in Germany, that we are at the very beginning of thinking through the issues thrown up by what doctors did in the second world war. We needed 50 years to be able to begin to think clearly about something so horrible.

Informed consent to experimentation is the issue most closely associated with the Nuremberg trials. The Nuremberg code produced in 1947 (p 1448) made informed consent an …

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