Reflections on the History of Human Experimentation

  • William Bynum
Part of the Philosophy and Medicine book series (PHME, volume 28)


Public awareness of the scientific, ethical, legal, and social dimensions of medical research on human beings has increased dramatically since World War II. The Nuremberg Trials horrified the world by revealing the extent to which Nazi physicians had tortured, mutilated, and killed human beings in the name of medical science and the exigencies of war. Developments in medicine since World War II have done little to assuage concern, for along with the advances in understanding, diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease have come a battery of uncomfortable and potentially dangerous invasive medical techniques: more elaborate surgery, powerful drugs with often powerful side-effects, and the potential for behavior modification to an extent unparalleled in earlier history. As a result of much research utilizing human subjects, however, a more technically proficient medicine has been achieved. The growth of medical knowledge has had the paradoxical effect of enhancing the possibility that research-minded doctors may feel the pull between immediate patient care and more precise knowledge, or in other words, between their short-term responsibilities and their long-term desires to improve medical knowledge, thereby making more effective diagnosis and treatment available to future patients.1


Human Experimentation Medical Knowledge Modern Medicine Clinical Science Hospital Medicine 
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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • William Bynum
    • 1
  1. 1.The Wellcome InstituteLondonEngland

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