Using Nazi Scientific Data

Dialogue 25 (3):403- (1986)
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In a series of experiments done in wartime Nazi Germany, inmates of the Dachau concentration camp were exposed to cold by being immersed in ice water, or kept outside in freezing temperatures; their responses were measured, and various techniques were used in an attempt to revive them. The immediate application of these hypothermia studies was to the war effort, to try to protect or save soldiers exposed to cold water or air. An account of the procedures and results of these experiments was written by an American officer, Major Leo Alexander, on the basis of his post-war discovery of documents and interviews in Germany. These reports reveal the ghastly and abominable details of the experiments.Recent scientific work in British Columbia has caused some ethical debate when it consulted the Alexander report and used some of the Nazi experimental data. The scientists in the Hypothermia Unit of the University of Victoria, unsurprisingly but reassuringly, have no intention of repeating the Nazi atrocities, and condemn them. The current controversy concerns the morality of their using the Alexander data in their study. This out-of-the-way case has some small intrinsic interest; but its consideration leads to broader concerns.



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