Life as an Extreme Sport

Cultural Ethics [August 11]

Sue’s lecture today comes at a timely period, when we begin to discuss the idea of testing pharmaceuticals on captured populations, quite literally: prison populations. Of course, AJOB itself, in its most recent issue, has an article discussing equipoise in research, and the idea of testing on indigenous populations being ethical because it would do them good to get at least the established, beneficial drug. I’ll spare you my thoughts on that AJOB article’s argument at the moment, and instead focus back on what Sue talked about, which was drug trials, and specifically (of course) Nazi experimentation.

Of course everyone knows that the results of the Nazi experimentation was the trial of 25 Nazi personnel, and the establishment of the Nuremburg Code — a code that, somewhat ironically, was first adopted in the United States by the US military (I believe the Navy first, although they were so quickly in succession of one another it really doesn’t matter, unless you’re a military brat looking for bragging rights).

The interesting question behind Nuremburg is the idea of the trial itself. What standards do you use to try someone for something that you recognize is a crime, yet there are no laws or regulations explicating the crime? How do you go about a fair trial without imposing one culture’s standards on another, yet not going the way of moral relativity, either?

Of course, on top of that, with the Nazi’s you have the question of what to do with the entire German medical population, as well as the data culled from the experiments the Nazi’s conducted. Some people adamantly want the data locked away and never seen, while others think that some good should come from the horror — both opinions held by actual survivors of the experimenters.

On the side of how to you judge, I don’t fall into Kant’s ideals of a universal morality, so I think you’ve to be careful about imposing others cultural standards on a culture that is not their own. So, I suppose I think that Rawls offers us the easiest out, in his veil of ignorance. I’m sure it’s an inaccurate perception, but I do feel like that gives us at least a slightly more neutral answer.

What to do with the doctors? Well, post-WW2, we regulated and watched Japan’s military — seems that regulating and watching Germany’s medical professions is the equal answer. Simply run oversight until you’re convinced they can do it on their own, when a generation not participating in the war has been raised. Is that too simplistic? It feels as thought it must be.

So far as what to do with the Nazi data… I have always fallen in the camp that something useful should be done with the data. That it should be clearly acknowledged where the data came from, the horror of the methodology (if you opt to be so generous as to call it methodology), but the value that can be extracted for fellow man. Don’t let the pain and suffering go to waste! I realize, though, that this is a controversial view, and as I’ve gotten older, and perhaps more enmeshed in the bioethical field, see the other point of view as well.


I took a break during Sue’s lecture today to use the restroom. Instead of returning to the classroom, I sat on a window ledge and leaned back into the sun. The temperature was finally near perfect — cool, but the warmth of the rays of sunlight bathing me, taking the knife-edge off the chill.

I watched a large, white cloud, fluffy and cottony, breeze slowly across the impossibly blue sky, the green of the tree leaves outside the window standing in stark, rich contrast against the yellow-y orange brick of the building across from me.

Tension melted under the light, and there was just this moment of rich synergy and rightness with the world. A week later, and when I have the chance to quietly reflect on, not necessarily the class, but the opportunity being given to me, I remain in complete awe.