Nazi Science: Human Experimentation vs. Human Rights


Professor: Dr. Linda M. Woolf

Office Hours:


Course Description:

Experiments conducted on human prisoners in Nazi concentration camps were in fact brutal crimes committed under the guise of Nazi medicine. In addition, Nazi science and medicine played a pivotal role in the perpetration of genocide. During this course, we will examine the role of Nazi science in genocide and human experimentation. For example:

These atrocities will be evaluated within the context of necessary fundamental human rights using the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the 1947 Nuremberg Code, the Declarations of Helsinki, the American Psychological Association's Ethical Principles in the Conduct of Research With Human Participants, and other documents pertaining to human rights and human experimentation. We will also examine:

Course Objectives and Outcomes:

  1. Objective: To examine the concept of human rights and understand these rights as outlined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Outcome: Students will be able to articulate, discuss, and evaluate the basic principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  2. Objective: To become familiar with the essential features of the Nuremberg Code, the Declarations of Helsinki, APA Ethics Code, and other documents as they relate to human rights and research.

    Outcome: Students will be able to articulate, discuss, and evaluate the fundamental rationales behind documents such as the Nuremberg Code, the Declarations of Helsinki, and the APA Ethics Code, particularly the concept of informed consent. Students will be able to apply the lessons learned from the Holocaust to Ethics and current bio-medical research issues today.

  3. Objectives: To examine the healing-to-killing road of Nazi medicine, from theories of racial hygiene to euthanasia and sterilization to the Holocaust.

    Outcome: Students will be able to articulate, analyze, and discuss the theories and ideas concerning eugenics and racial hygiene as developed in the United States and Nazi Germany. Students will also be able to describe and evaluate the role these theories played in practices such as eugenic laws, sterilization, euthanasia, and genocide.

  4. Objective: To examine the various experiments conducted within the concentration camps using prisoners as subjects.

    Outcome: Students will be able to describe the experiments conducted in the Nazi Concentration Camps and discuss the underlying rationales behind these experiments.

  5. Objectives: To examine the fundamental process by which these experiments violated basic human rights using the Nuremberg Code, the Declarations of Helsinki, and other documents as references.

    Outcome: Students will also be able to assess these studies in terms of their unethical components as defined by human rights and ethics documents today.

  6. Objective: To examine other abuses of human experimentation that occurred during and after World War II.

    Outcome: Students will be able to describe, discuss, and evaluate other human experimentation abuses that have occurred both abroad and in the United States.

  7. Objective: To address the issue of the use of data or specimens obtained unethically for research and writing today. In other words, should we use Nazi data as source material or human specimens preserved from Nazi science in research?

    Outcome: Students will be able to discuss, evaluate, and contrast the pro and con arguments in relation to the use of unethically obtained date from experimentation.

Class Meetings:

The class will meet on MWF from 9:00 - 12:50. Attendance is strongly recommended as class discussion will greatly enhance your understanding of the material presented in this class. Also, material will be presented that is not in any of the readings.

This course will be challenging for several reasons. First, it entails a fair amount of reading in a short period of time. If this is to be a good class, it is essential for everyone to do the reading, come to class, and be prepared to participate in the discussion. Second, this course is difficult because of its almost unrelieved concentration on human suffering and extreme, deliberately inflicted cruelty; the information presented in this class is difficult to read and difficult to discuss. There will be opportunities for class members to discuss thoughts and feelings that arise during the course.

Course Requirements:

Two exams, a team presentation, and class participation/discussion.

All grades will be assigned on a scale of 0 - 10 with:

90 - 100A-,AExcellent
80 - 89B-,B,B+Above Average
70 - 79C-,C,C+Average
60 - 69D-,D,D+Below Average
Less than 60FFailing

Percent of Grade:

Team Presentation 20%
Class Participation/Discussion10%

Examinations: The exams are designed to test for an understanding of the terms, theories, ideas, and historical events related to Nazi science and human rights as presented in text, readings, lecture, and discussion. The exams will include multiple choice, matching, short answer, and essay. Exams will be worth 70 percent of your final grade.

Policy: All exams must be taken on the date scheduled. In case of an emergency, the instructor must be notified. No make-up exams will be give if you fail to notify and discuss your situation with the instructor. It is up to the instructor's discretion whether to offer or not offer a make-up exam. Please note that no extra credit work will be make available to make-up for a poor test grade.

Team Presentation: Teams and topics will be assigned the second week of class. Each team will present on an instance of Nazi experimentation in the camps (i.e., a PPT presentation and lead a discussion) and will last approximately 30 - 45 minutes. Presentations will be work 20% of your final grade.

Class Participation/Discussion: Your participation in this class with discussion and questions is not only important but valued. As such, it constitutes 10% of your final grade.

Policy Statements:

Students with disabilities who believe that they may need accommodations in this class are encouraged to contact me or the Director of the Academic Resource Center, as soon as possible to ensure that such accommodations can be implemented in a timely fashion.

Use of Electronic Devices in the Classroom: Please respect others in the class by turning off all cell phones and pagers before entering the room. Text messaging during class is not acceptable. Laptops may be used in class but are only to be utilized for class related activities (e.g., taking notes). If it becomes apparent you are using the computer for non-class activities (e.g., checking your email, playing games) then you may be asked to turn off your computer and refrain from bringing it into class in the future. Laptop use is restricted to the back or sides of the classroom so that other students are not distracted during lecture.

Plagiarism (attempting to pass off the work of another as one's own) is not acceptable. Plagiarism includes copying all or part of another's writings (even a single sentence), inappropriate paraphrasing, using another student's paper as your own, submitting a paper for more than one class. All papers will be submitted to the university's plagiarism database for review. Plagiarism, either intentional or unintentional, will result in a grade of 0 for that assignment and will be turned over to the appropriate university source for disciplinary action. In addition, cheating on exams will also result in the same fate.

Here are some Web sites that will help you avoid the problem of plagiarism particularly plagiarism resulting from paraphrasing too closely to the original source. -

It should be noted that, as is common in many university courses, little time will be spent lecturing on topics adequately addressed by the text. Students are expected to arrive at class meetings having already read the material assigned, and to ask questions to clarify any areas that remain unclear. While every attempt will be made to explain or expand upon particularly difficult areas, the primary purpose of classroom lecture is to enhance, rather than to duplicate, the textbook material.

Late withdraws from this class will not be approved by the instructor except in cases of emergency discussed with the instructor. No late withdraws will be approved on the basis of poor class performance.

This syllabus is subject to change at the instructor's discretion. All changes concerning course requirements will be provided in writing. Changes concerning exam dates may be made at the instructor's discretion and communicated verbally to the class.

It is understood that remaining in this course (not dropping or withdrawing from this course) constitutes an agreement to abide by the terms outlined in this syllabus and an acceptance of the requirements outlined in this document. No grade of Incomplete will be issued for this course.



Topic & Readings

May11 Introduction to class
How much do you know about the Holocaust?
What are Human Rights?
What is the Relationship between Human Rights and Human Experimentation?


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The Nuremberg Code

The Declarations of Helsinki

Optional Readings:

The Nuremberg Code: An International Overview by Sharon Perley, Sev Fluss, Zbigniew Bankowski, and Francoise Simon in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code edited by G. Annas and M. Grodin

The Nuremberg Principles in International Law by Robert Drinan in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code edited by G. Annas and M. Grodin

May12The Path to the Holocaust

Readings: Introduction to the Holocaust at United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum website

Optional Readings:

The Psychosocial Roots of Genocide by Woolf & Hulsizer

May13Nazi Medicine: From Racial Hygiene Theories to Euthanasia and Sterilization


Human Genetics in Nazi Germany by Benno Muller-Hill in METR

Racial Hygiene: The Collaboration of Medicine and Nazism by Robert Proctor in METR

Optional Reading:

Nazi Doctors, German Medicine, and Historical Truth by Christian Pross in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code edited by G. Annas and M. Grodin


Nazi Medicine's Role in the Holocaust


The Healing-Killing Paradox by Peter Haas in METR

Sterilization, Euthanasia, and the Holocaust - The Brutal Chain by Daniel Nadav in METR

The Destruction of "Lives Not Worth Living" by Robert Proctor in Racial Hygiene: Medicine under the Nazis by R. Proctor

May 20Exam I

Introduction to Human Experimentation: Ethics
Human Experiments conducted by the Japanese - WWII
Work on Team Presentations


Human Experiments: "Secret of Secrets" in Factories of Death: Japanese Biological Warfare, 1932-45, and the American Cover-up by S. Harris

May 21

Human Experimentation - Dachau (Team Presentation)
Human Experimentation - Ravensbruck (Team Presentation)
Human Experimentation - Buchenwald


Nazi Science - The Dachau Hypthermia Experiments by Robert Berger in METR

The Stations of the Cross by Vera Laska in METH

Optional Readings:

Malaria Experiments in Dachau by Helmut Ableiter in The Buchenwald Report edited by D. Hackett

Selected Readings from The Buchenwald Report edited by D. Hackett

Nazi Doctors by Robert Jay Lifton and Amy Hackett in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp edited by Y. Gutman and M. Berenbaum

May26 (Memorial Day - No Class on Campus)Human Experimentation in the United States
View: Miss Evers' Boys (on Reserve in the Library)
Visit Canvas/WorldClassroom for discussion questions and discuss!
May 27

Human Experimentation - Auschwitz - Mengele (Team Presentation)
Tuskegee (Team Presentation)
Other Experiments in the U.S.

Progress in Ethics
Should we use the data?


The Crimes of Josef Mengele by Helena Kubica in Anatomy of the Auschwitz Death Camp edited by Y. Gutman and M. Berenbaum

The Personal, Public, and Political Dimensions of Being a Mengele Guinea Pig by Eva Kor in METR

The Ethics of Using Scientific Data Obtained by Immoral Means by F. Rosner, et. al. in The New York State Journal of Medicine, 91, pp. 54-59.

Should the Nazi Research Data be Cited? by Kristine Moe in The Hasting Center Report, December 1984, 5-7.

Optional Readings:

Concentration Camp Experiments: Their Relevance for Contemporary Research with Human Beings by Jay Katz in METR

The Changing Landscape of Human Experimentation: Nuremberg, Helsinki, and Beyond by George Annas in METR

Historical Origins of the Nuremberg Code by Michael Grodin in METR

Relevance of Nazi Medical Behavior to the Health Profession Today by Michael Franzblau in METR

Medicine and Human Rights: A Proposal for International Action by Michael Grodin, George Annas, and Leonard Glantz in METR

The Relevance of the Holocaust to Current Bio-Medical Issues by Arthur Caplan in Medical Ethics and the Third Reich in METR

May28Conclusions and Last Thoughts


Lessons We Have Learned by Lisa Sowle Cahill in METR

Exam II

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