July 23, 2024

How Relevant Are Intentions Behind Medical Research?

90% of all medical research in Nazi Germany was criminal (Weindling et al., 2016). This is a shocking and interesting statistic. Ideally, medical research is meant to benefit society as a whole. Medical research is supposed to be in the best interest of human kind. It is supposed to improve our species and provide us with the tools to overcome illnesses. It is intended to improve the human experience on Earth. Clearly, the physicians and scientists that conducted the inhumane and unethical medical experiments in Nazi Germany did not have any of these purposes in mind. Thus, it begs us to ask, “What did they have in mind?”

A more obvious answer to this question is, obviously, racism. Josef Mengele is an infamous example of one physician who really was “vehemently racist” and a loyal member of the Nazi party (Blakemore, 2019). To be supporting such a regime, especially until the very end, one cannot claim to value human life. Mengele completely “abandon[ed all of his knowledge of] medical ethics and research protocols… [to conduct his] horrific [twin] experiments” at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (Blakemore, 2019). In the case of Mengele, he completely deemed the Jewish population as worthless. The pure hatred he had for a group of people outweighed any good intentions he might have had for advancing his field through scientific research. After becoming “chief camp physician”, Mengele saw an opportunity to continue his twin experiments (Blakemore, 2019). Nobody at the concentration camp was going to tell him how to conduct his research at this point, and certainly nobody was going to stop his research if it involved the abuse of Jewish people. He saw an opportunity to continue his research and fulfill his self-interests. That dominated any moral responsibilities he had to the field of medicine or science.

While it is true that many of the physicians and scientist participating in any research in Nazi Germany might have been similar to Mengele with regards to their truly evil motives, I am not certain that is representative of the entire scientific community in Nazi Germany. Throughout the years, many guards and personnel involved in the concentration camps have come out demonstrating remorse and apologizing for all of murders they aided in committing. There has to have been physicians and scientists facing similar moral dilemmas. It is important to acknowledge the strong pressures that existed in Nazi Germany to remain in the party and to follow all of the rules that would cause nothing but pain to Jewish people. Any sign of disloyalty was to be severely punished. Many physicians and scientists may have not felt like they could have afforded to stray away from the kind of research that they were doing. This is not to say that the way they were conducting experiments and the kinds of topics that they were researching were not morally reprehensible. It is more to conduct some thought about how much agency these physicians and scientists really had in the work place. Maybe they did not realize really what they were doing when they started the experiments. Still, once they started it was probably very hard to stop for fear of the regime’s consequences.


Blakemore, E. (2019, July 08). Why the Nazis Were Obsessed With Twins. Retrieved October 10, 2020, from https://www.history.com/news/nazi-twin-experiments-mengele-eugenics

Weindling, P., Villiez, A. V., Loewenau, A., & Farron, N. (2016). The victims of unethical human experiments and coerced research under National Socialism. Endeavour, 40(1), 1-6. doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2015.10.005


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