MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

I am pleased to announce that our regular contributors ‘DC‘ as well as ‘mimi‘ both correctly guessed the person responsible for the quote about informed consent that was the subject of yesterday’s post. Congratulations to both; that certainly wasn’t easy!

The quote is by Karl Brandt.

Who was Karl Brandt?

Brandt was a young and evidently gifted doctor when, during a series of coincidences, he became a member of Hitler’s ‘inner circle’ and acted as one of Hitler’s personal physicians (originally, he had wanted to join the team of Albert Schweitzer!). Hitler liked the good-looking, ambitious Brandt and thus gave him greater and greater responsibilities and power. Amongst other things, Brandt managed to become in charge of the German euthanasia program which killed about 70 000 patients who the Nazis considered to be ‘useless eaters’ and unworthy of their support. It had the cynical purpose of freeing up hospital beds for the war and cleansing the German gene pool. Brandt also was responsible for many of the unspeakably cruel and immoral medical experiments in the concentration camps.

After the war, Brandt was put on trial in Nuremberg. The trial became known as the ‘Doctors’ Trail‘. Twenty of the 23 defendants were medical doctors (Viktor BrackRudolf Brandt, and Wolfram Sievers were Nazi officials). They were accused of having been involved in Nazi human experimentation and mass murder under the guise of euthanasia. Brandt insisted that he had never done anything wrong, had followed orders, and had been guided by the highest morals, solid medical ethics, and his determination to do the very best for the German people.

During his interrogations, he stated the sentences that fascinated me when I first read it: ” On the one hand, there are experiments that are carried out for or with someone on a voluntary basis; on the other hand, there are those that take place against the will of the person concerned. A further subdivision indicates whether they are particularly dangerous or comparatively harmless and without any potential for danger. A further distinction must be made as to whether the result of the experiment is important or whether it is merely a ridiculous game played by a scientifically educated person. These six criteria form a kind of guideline that enables one to say YES or NO from a medical point of view.”

The quote is cited in the book by Ulf Schmidt which is extremely well-researched and worth reading for anyone with an interest in the subject. In my view, it gives a unique insight into the thinking of someone who clearly was bright yet power-hungry, scrupulous and deeply immoral:

  • experiments “against the will of the person concerned” always were unlawful, immoral, and unethical according to the guidelines that existed at the time;
  • “particularly dangerous” experiments should have never been considered;
  • research that is merely a “ridiculous game played by a scientifically educated person” is pseudoscience and not ethical.

Brandt tried to present himself as the ‘honest’, upright Nazi who did what he did because of a deep conviction and because he wanted the best. He seemed to have fooled others and possibly even himself. Several influential personalities rallied to his support. Yet, the judges at Nuremberg did neither believe his version of events nor were they inclined to pardon his behavior. Brandt was found guilty of:

  • War crimes: performing medical experiments, without the subjects’ consent, on prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, in the course of which experiments the defendants committed murders, brutalities, cruelties, tortures, atrocities, and other inhuman acts. Also planning and performing the mass murder of prisoners of war and civilians of occupied countries, stigmatized as aged, insane, incurably ill, deformed, and so on, by gas, lethal injections, and diverse other means in nursing homes, hospitals, and asylums during the Euthanasia Program and participating in the mass murder of concentration camp inmates;
  • Crimes against humanity: committing crimes also on German nationals;
  • Membership in a criminal organization, the SS. The charges against him included special responsibility for, and participation in, Freezing, MalariaLOST GasSulfanilamide, Bone, Muscle and Nerve Regeneration and Bone Transplantation, Sea-Water, Epidemic Jaundice, Sterilization, and Typhus Experiments.

Brandt was executed on 2 June 1948.

The discussions around informed consent at the Nuremberg ‘doctors trial’ brought this subject into a renewed focus and eventually led to the formulation of the now famous ‘Nuremberg Code‘.

2 Responses to Karl Brandt’s quote on INFORMED CONSENT

  • Yay! It’s Mimi (not Mini), but perhaps a made a type in my haste to enter the contest!

    I have to share that I recently saw a Nazi themed documentary that covered Brandt as part of Hitler’s entourage. I also benefitted from the incorrect guesses that ruled out some names.

    Do I still get a copy of the book in light of the tie?

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