Intended for healthcare professionals


Revising the Declaration of Helsinki

BMJ 2013; 346 doi: (Published 08 May 2013) Cite this as: BMJ 2013;346:f2837
  1. Vivienne Nathanson, director of professional activities
  1. 1BMA, London WC1H 9JP, UK,
  1. VNathanson{at}

Your chance to influence research governance

In the middle of the 20th century, the Nuremberg trials laid bare the abuse of medical knowledge and techniques used in human experimentation, with perhaps the most famous offender being Joseph Mengele. The outcomes of the trials included the Nuremberg Code—a legal document intended to stop such abuses—and the establishment of the World Medical Association (WMA). Both were intended to ensure that doctors never again performed such inhuman experiments.

Over the next two decades the newly formed WMA began to put together a core set of policies, designed to reflect ethical thinking, to which doctors were expected to conform. The Declaration of Helsinki, published in 1964,1 set out rules and limits for human experimentation based on the findings of the Nuremberg trials and an unshakeable conviction that human experimental subjects have fundamental rights that drive a series of duties for the experimenter. Key to its development and adoption was that it was essentially written by doctors for doctors.

Since then, the declaration has been incorporated into national laws in several countries and has been a touchstone for researchers. It has not remained static; changes have been made on eight occasions. Another revision is now under way, and a draft document is currently open …

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