Nuremberg and Tuskegee: lessons for contemporary American medicine

J Natl Med Assoc. 2003 Dec;95(12):1216-25.


The activities of German doctors during the Nazi regime are well known and documented. They include efforts at eugenic sterilization and euthanasia, gruesome medical experimentation, and contributions to genocide. The German medical profession embraced the Nazi ideology of racial superiority. Nazi doctors enthusiastically perverted traditional medical mores of viewing each patient as a full individual towards a misguided sense of protecting the racial well-being of the nation from the perceived threat of certain groups of people. Similarly, some 20th-century American physicians engaged in activities prompted by a misguided sense of patients' worth as individuals. This essay will examine the ethical problems of Nazi medicine and ethical missteps in the United States in the context of challenges for contemporary physicians, particularly the way in which we refer to our patients.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • African Americans
  • Ethics, Clinical* / history
  • Eugenics / history*
  • Germany
  • History, 20th Century
  • Human Experimentation / history*
  • Humans
  • National Socialism
  • Prejudice
  • Syphilis / history*
  • United States