War Crimes and Medicine
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Statement by the Council of the British Medical Association for submission to the World Medical Association, June 1947

Reproduced with permission


The evidence given in the trials of medical war criminals has shocked the medical profession of the world. These trials have shown that the doctors who were guilty of these crimes against humanity lacked both the moral and professional conscience that is to be expected of members of this honourable profession. They departed from the traditional medical ethic which maintains the value and sanctity of every individual human being.

Crimes committed by doctors have been classified by the War Crimes Commission as follows:

  1. Experiments without consent on human subjects authorised by high authorities on the pretext of scientific research in the interests of war.
  2. Experiments without consent conducted by medical officials in concentration camps on their own initiative in order to gain experience.
  3. Deliberate selection and killing of prisoners in camps by medical neglect or by lethal injections.
  4. Deliberate killing of infirm or feeble-minded patients and of children in hospitals and asylums.

From the above it is clear that doctors carried out their inhuman experiments both for the furtherance of the war effort and for research in disease. In the course of the experiments and in the application of their findings, they deliberately killed persons politically undesirable to the regime in power. They misused their medical knowledge and prostituted scientific research. They ignored the sanctity and importance of human life, exploiting human beings both as individuals and in the mass. They betrayed the trust society had placed in them as a profession.

The doctors who took part in these deeds did not become criminals in a moment. Their amoral methods were the result of training and conditioning to regard science as an instrument in the hands of the State to be applied in any way desired by its rulers. It is to be assumed that initially they did not realise that the ideas of those who held political power would lead to the denial of the fundamental values on which Medicine is based.

Whatever the causes such crimes must never be allowed to recur. Research in Medicine as well as its practice must never be separated from eternal moral values. Doctors must be quick to point out to their fellow members of society the likely consequences of policies that degrade or deny fundamental human rights. The profession must be vigilant to observe and combat developments which might again ensnare its members and debase the high purpose of its ideals. The medical crimes committed in the late war have shown only too convincingly how medical knowledge and progress, unless governed by humanitarian motives, may become the instruments of wanton destruction in the pursuit of war.

The influence of Medicine throughout a nation is often underestimated. Individually the doctor is more than the exponent of medical opinion and the technical expert. He is the confidant, the friend and the trusted adviser, and wields an influence far beyond the immediate realm of physical needs. Collectively the medical profession can cultivate throughout the world the growth of international amity.

The following procedure by the World Medical Association is accordingly recommended:

  • The publication of a resolution endorsing judicial action by which members of the medical profession who shared in war crimes are punished.
  • The drafting of a World Charter of Medicine. This might take the form of a modern affirmation of the aims and ethics of medicine in the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath, which should be published and applied in medical education and medical practice.
  • In medical education, the traditional aims and ethics of Medicine should pervade the curriculum. An undertaking to abide by these principles as expressed in a Charter of Medicine should be part of the medical graduation ceremony.
  • In medical practice, the adoption of this Charter by the World Medical Association and its constituent bodies, and publicity through the world medical Press, would do much to prevent a recurrence of such crimes and to ensure that Medicine remains a constructive and beneficial influence in society as a whole.

APPENDIX I Summary of medical crimes, abstracted from reports of Nuremberg Trials, 1945-6

An abstract of the available evidence indicates that the so-called experiments include:

  • The effect of vacuum and pressure chambers.
  • Sterilisation - chemical, operative, and radiological, with controls by artificial insemination.
  • Blood transfusion.
  • Cold water immersion, with periodic blood tests and different methods of resuscitation.
  • Liver punctures.
  • Deliberate septic infection.
  • Excision of parts of the body.
  • Experimental operative surgery - non-indicated operations for instructional purposes.
  • Exposure to gas and chemicals for varying periods and results checked by autopsy.
  • Methods of "mercy killing", gas, benzene injections, cremation of semi-moribund individuals before death, etc.

APPENDIX II Principles for inclusion in a Charter of Medicine


The traditional aim of medicine has been the succour of the bodily needs of the individual irrespective of class or race or creed, the cure of disease, the relief of suffering, and the prolongation of human life. In later years the prevention of disease has been added to the traditional aim. All these have been accomplished by the scientific method coupled with the spirit of charity and service. The achievement of the highest possible level of health for all people is an aim of the World Medical Association.


Although there have been many changes in Medicine, the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath cannot change and can be reaffirmed by the profession. It enjoins: The brotherhood of medical men and women. The motive of service for the good of patients. The duty of curing, the greatest crime being co-operation in the destruction of life by murder, suicide and abortion. Purity of living and honourable dealing. Professional secrecy for the protection of patients. Dissemination of medical knowledge and discovery for the benefit of mankind.

APPENDIX III Blbliography

Memoranda, United Nations War Crimes Commission. The Nuremberg Trials: Proceedings and Judgement of the International Military Tribunal for the Trial of German Major War Criminals, 1945-46.

"Medical Science Abused", by a group of Czechoslovak doctors.

"Medical Experiments on Human beings in Concentration Camps in Nazi Germany", by K. Mellanby, British Medical Journal, January 25, 1947.

"Cobayes Humains", by Drs. Menkes, Herrmann and Maege, Paris.