You may be familiar with IMARC Research’s History of Clinical Research (HCR). We recently released an eBook about it that briefly describes all of the images that currently make up the timeline. If you have visited our office, you may have also been given a guided tour of one of our most renowned resources. Due to the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received, we will be highlighting each time point with a series of blogs that we plan to release over the course of the 2014 calendar year.
On April 8th of 1945, the Allied powers received this message from a secret short-wave transmitter hidden in the barracks of the Buchenwald concentration camp:
“To the Allies. To the army of General Patton. This is the Buchenwald concentration camp. SOS. We request help. They want to evacuate us. The SS wants to destroy us.”
This cry for help was repeatedly sent in English, German, and Russian by Polish engineer Gwidon Damazyn, a prisoner of the camp since March 1941. Three minutes after the final transmission was sent, the headquarters of the US Third Army replied: “KZ Bu. Hold out. Rushing to your aid. Staff of Third Army.”
When the US Army arrived three days later the devastation they discovered was beyond imaginable, ‘too much to describe,’ reported one US journalist. Unfortunately the atrocities these liberators discovered were no match for the horrors unseen, witnessed only by the prisoners within – a theme that would prove common for the succession of liberations that occurred between 1944 and 1945.
The occurrences at the Nazi extermination and concentrations camps are considered some of the worst offenses in human history. Furthermore, in the realm of clinical research, these crimes now mark scientific history as brutal examples of human experimentation. Prisoners of the Axis powers were subjected to brutalities including twin studies on genetic mutation and bone, muscle, and nerve transplants during which patients were provided no anesthesia. Other Nazi crimes included head injury experiments, malaria experiments, sea water consumption experiments, high altitude simulation experiments, and freezing temperature experiments. In fact, most of what modern scientists understand of hypothermia is derived from these initial experiments, many of which were intended to provide insight on how to combat the conditions suffered by German soldiers on the eastern war front.
The full extent of the events that occurred at the Nazi concentration camps can likely never be known. However, the millions of individuals whose lives were sacrificed under ill-will should serve as an extreme reminder to the scientific community the responsibility each of us carries to uphold the well-being and best interest of the patients we encounter - regardless of any current personal, societal, or political pressures. The medical ethics are clear: Do no harm.
The Nazi Party’s focus on human experimentation serves as another example in history where tragic events both challenged and improved research ethics. For more historical examples like this one, be sure to check out IMARC Research’s History of Clinical Research. Can you think of any other events, whether current or historical, that have fostered the improvement of human subject protection? Leave your thoughts below!
Image Credit: Nicolette Capuano