Nazi Ethics


“In the interest of...saving lives, is it acceptable to make use of data collected through mutilation, torture, and death” (Campbell, 16)? That is the question which has been rearing its head in scientific research since the end of World War II. As man has sought to quench his thirst for knowledge, lines of ethicality have been drawn to preserve the integrity of science, and provide a framework from which man can improve upon the quality of human life. In Nazi concentration and death camps, the gruesome sibling of science matured. Nazi scientists, physicians, and scholars tore down the ethical framework of science in order to eliminate the genetically inferior, and ultimately, attempt to forge a ‘pure’ race of ‘super-humans’. Members of the Nazi scientific community were to serve as “alert biological soldiers” (Crum, 33). These ‘soldiers’ conducted research on non-consenting camp inmates in order to “demonstrate a hereditary basis for group differences in behavioral and physical characteristics” in humans (Caplan, 286). The most well known experiments in this regard were the experiments conducted on twins at Auschwitz.


The other goal of the Nazi scientists was to provide human data that could be applied to the war effort. Experimentation of this sort mainly probed the extremes, which the human body could tolerate in a hostile environment. The most famous experiment of this sort was the ‘Dachau Hypothermia Study.’ The rationale of the experiments was as follows:


“A consequence of air combat and air campaigns was that pilots were shot down and landed in cold water. In addition, the German Navy was losing a large number of personnel in the cold North Sea. There were no data available to document how long the downed pilots could survive in the frigid North Sea. The solution to these questions, as well as others, was considered important by certain groups of Nazi administrators and scientists. From a historical point of view, at that time, the number of papers that had been published that dealt with human response to cold water and/or air was very limited...therefore, the German scientists were seeking answers to “legitimate scientific goals” (Caplan, 98).


The last line, “...German scientists were seeking answers to ‘legitimate scientific goals’”, is the statement which is the prime concern of this paper.


In order to accomplish their ‘goals,’ Nazi scientists conducted human experiments, virtually all of which, ended in the subjects’ murder. How can answers to ‘legitimate scientific goals’ be found in murder? Should these experiments even be considered ‘science’? Furthermore, should these experiments be allowed to provide quotable data to the modern scientific community?


The debate on whether or not science should allow referencing to Nazi data rages. Objectors to using Nazi data, state that by using the data from the Nazis’ human experimentation, researchers are not only endorsing, but also encouraging future unethical research. In addition, objectors maintain that the Nazi research was poorly designed and conducted so haphazardly, that it really doesn’t even qualify as ‘scientific’. They state, “scientific results depended upon protocols which were soaked in iniquity. In many experiments, it was ‘control subjects’, denied treatment, who suffered most and died. ‘Sample size’ meant truck loads of Jews. ‘Significance’ was an indication of misery, and ‘response rate’ a measure of torment” (Dixon, 31).


Objectors to the use of Nazi research believe that nothing good will come from this research. They believe that using research gathered through murder endorses the methods used in the experiments. If this statement were to be contested, they would argue that to cite research is to say ‘I believe in this work’. To believe in research, one must be inclined to repeat the original work and further investigate the topic. Objectors claim that this condition is never satisfied. They state, “We do not, to be specific, replicate the Nazi experiments. ‘We’ do not do it. The Nazis did” (Campbell, 18). Objectors believe that a scientist above all else is a human, thus, he must recognize himself as a moral being. Since humans were murdered in these experiments, the data collected should be considered ‘tainted’. No moral being should associate with tainted data.


Objectors also believe that the methodology of these experiments cannot be considered ‘science’. In regard to the infamous hypothermia experiments at Dachau, United States Brigadier General Telford Taylor, claimed that, “these experiments