Medicine And The Moral Dilemma – Nazi-Era Experiments And A Question Of Ethics And Conscience – Past Daily Reference Room

Dr. Josef Mengele
Dr. Josef Mengele – Was anything of any value accomplished, or was it simply an exercise in depravity?
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Newsmark – “A Moral Dilemma” – June 19, 1988 – CBS Radio – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

A question and an argument that has been going on ever since the end of World War 2. When Concentration camps were discovered and liberated by the Allies at the close of the war in Europe, the true nature of the Holocaust came to light. For in those camps, where some six million lives were extinguished also lay a further discovery; that human beings were used for experiments that ran the gamut of unconscionable cruelty – all in the name of Science. Science used to save lives of German soldiers wounded in battle – science used to test endurance – Science misused and oaths abandoned, inflicting unimagined suffering and the deaths of countless individuals used in those experiments.

When the camps were liberated and the horrors uncovered, one of the discoveries made was a considerable amount of data, amassed as the result of those experiments. Carefully noted and chronicled, with accompanying photographs and film footage, showing the extent of those experiments and their effects.

The Nazi doctors were using the data in order to save the lives of German military personnel. So the question arose; was this data, the results of those experiments, of any moral value in helping make scientific discoveries after the war?

The Scientific Community has been evenly divided on the issue ever since. One of the issues, the main focus of this discussion/documentary was the issue of Hypothermia – how long could a person last in cold water – at what point does the body stop functioning before death sets in. The Nazis had performed numerous experiments as a way of finding out about Hypothermia as a way of saving pilots downed in frigid waters. An extensive amount of data was collected as a result of those experiments and the controversy was whether or not this data should be considered, used or ignored because of how the data was gathered and under what circumstances.

Many felt the ends did not justify the means under any circumstances – that whatever benefit could never be justified by the amount of suffering gone through in order to obtain it, while others felt it was some small tribute to the prisoners who died that their sacrifice was not in vain – that what they went through could potentially benefit others for generations to come.

Both sides of the argument, all scientists and doctors, were equally passionate about their positions. And in the end, the argument is still left up in the air. Perhaps as a way of letting the listener decide by witnessing the dilemma being faced by the doctors and researchers in trying to solve problems and arrive at cures and to realize just how difficult the issue is facing a community whose oath is to do no harm.

Here is that episode of the CBS Radio series Newsmark, as it was broadcast on June 19, 1988 under the title “A Moral Dilemma”.

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