The Declaration of Geneva: Conscience, Dignity and Good Medical Practice

Sean Murphy, Ramona Coelho, Philippe D. Violette, Ewan C. Goligher, Timothy Lau, Sheila Rutledge Harding, Rene Leiva

World Medical Journal

Since 1948 the Declaration of Geneva (the Declaration) has insisted that physicians must practise medicine “with conscience and dignity.” In 2017 this provision was modified by adding, “and in accordance with good medical practice” [1].

Good medical practice in Canada is said to include providing euthanasia and assisted suicide or arranging for someone else to do so. From this perspective, physicians who cannot in conscience kill their patients or collaborate in killing are not acting “in accordance with good medical practice,” and – some might say – the revised Declaration.

However, this merely literal application of the text cannot be correct, since the WMA later reaffirmed its support for physicians who refuse to provide or refer for euthanasia and assisted suicide even where they are considered good medical practice [2]. A reading informed by the history of the document is necessary and consistent with the care taken in its revision [1]. This yields a rational and coherent account of the relationship of conscience and dignity to medical practice.

Murphy S, Coelho R, Violette PD, Goligher EC, Lau T, Harding SR, Leiva R. The Declaration of Geneva: Conscience, Dignity and Good Medical Practice . WMJ [Internet]. 2020 Aug; 66(4): 43-47.

Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust

Dimitra Chousou, Daniela Theodoridou, George Boutlas, Anna Batistatou, Christos Yapijakis, Maria Syrrou

Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust


Heredity and reproduction have always been matters of concern. Eugenics is a story that began well before the Holocaust, but the Holocaust completely changed the way eugenics was perceived at that time. What began with Galton (1883) as a scientific movement aimed at the improvement of the human race based on the theories and principles of heredity and statistics became by the beginning of the 20th century an international movement that sought to engineer human supremacy. Eugenic ideas, however, trace back to ancient Greek aristocratic ideas exemplified in Plato’s Republic, which played an important role in shaping modern eugenic social practices and government policies. Both positive (encouragement of the propagation of the fit, namely without hereditary afflictions, i.e. socially acceptable) and negative (institutionalization, sterilization, euthanasia) eugenics focused on the encouragement of healthy and discouragement of unhealthy reproduction.
All these practices were often based on existing prejudices about race and disability. In this article, we will focus on the rise of eugenics, starting with the publication of Origin of Species to the Holocaust. This examination will be multidisciplinary, utilizing genetics, legal history and bioethical aspects. Through this examination, we will discuss how provisional understandings of genetics influenced eugenics-based legislation. We will also discuss the
rise of biopolitics, the change of medical ethos and stance towards negative eugenics policies, and the possible power of bioethical principles to prevent such phenomena.

Chousou D, Theodoridou D, Boutlas G, Batistatou A, Yapijakis C, Syrrou M. Eugenics between Darwin’s Εra and the Holocaust. Conatus J Philosophy; 2019 4(2); 171-204. DOI:

U.S. Public Health Service STD Experiments in Guatemala (1946–1948) and Their Aftermath

Kayte Spector-Bagdady, Paul A. Lombardo

Ethics and Human Research


The U.S. Public Health Service’s sexually transmitted disease (STD) experiments in Guatemala are an important case study not only in human subjects research transgressions but also in the response to serious lapses in research ethics. This case study describes how individuals in the STD experiments were tested, exposed to STDs, and exploited as the source of biological specimens—all without informed consent and often with active deceit. It also explores and evaluates governmental and professional responses that followed the public revelation of these experiments, including by academic institutions, professional organizations, and the U.S. federal government, pushing us to reconsider both how we prevent such lapses in the future and how we respond when they are first revealed.

SpectorBagdady K, Lombardo PA. U.S. Public Health Service STD Experiments in Guatemala (1946–1948) and Their Aftermath. Ethics & Human Research. 2019 Apr; 41(2): 29-34.

Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna

Herwig Czech

Molecular Autism

Abstract |Background: Hans Asperger (1906–1980) first designated a group of children with distinct psychological characteristics as ‘autistic psychopaths’ in 1938, several years before Leo Kanner’s famous 1943 paper on autism. In 1944, Asperger published a comprehensive study on the topic (submitted to Vienna University in 1942 as his postdoctoral thesis), which would only find international acknowledgement in the 1980s. From then on, the eponym ‘Asperger’s syndrome’ increasingly gained currency in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the conceptualization of the condition. At the time, the fact that Asperger had spent pivotal years of his career in Nazi Vienna caused some controversy regarding his potential ties to National Socialism and its race hygiene policies. Documentary evidence was scarce, however, and over time a narrative of Asperger as an active opponent of National Socialism took hold. The main goal of this paper is to re-evaluate this narrative, which is based to a large extent on statements made by Asperger himself and on a small segment of his published work.

Methods: Drawing on a vast array of contemporary publications and previously unexplored archival documents (including Asperger’s personnel files and the clinical assessments he wrote on his patients), this paper offers a critical examination of Asperger’s life, politics, and career before and during the Nazi period in Austria.

Results: Asperger managed to accommodate himself to the Nazi regime and was rewarded for his affirmations of loyalty with career opportunities. He joined several organizations affiliated with the NSDAP (although not the Nazi party itself), publicly legitimized race hygiene policies including forced sterilizations and, on several occasions, actively cooperated with the child ‘euthanasia’ program. The language he employed to diagnose his patients was often remarkably harsh (even in comparison with assessments written by the staff at Vienna’s notorious Spiegelgrund ‘euthanasia’ institution), belying the notion that he tried to protect the children under his care by embellishing their diagnoses.

Conclusion: The narrative of Asperger as a principled opponent of National Socialism and a courageous defender of his patients against Nazi ‘euthanasia’ and other race hygiene measures does not hold up in the face of the historical evidence. What emerges is a much more problematic role played by this pioneer of autism research. Future use of the eponym should reflect the troubling context of its origins in Nazi-era Vienna.

Czech H.  Hans Asperger, National Socialism, and “race hygiene” in Nazi-era Vienna. Molecular Autism 2018;9(29)

The ambiguous victim: Miklós Nyiszli’s narrative of medical experimentation in Auschwitz-Birkenau

Marius Turda

The ambiguous victim: Miklós Nyiszli's narrative of medical experimentation in Auschwitz-Birkenau

. . While recent scholarship has – for the past two decades – endeavoured to transcend initial reservations about these forms of testimony, the difficulty with some of these memoirs – namely their authors’ implicit complicity in unethical medical research and in the Nazi Holocaust in general – remains however problematic. To address this thorny issue, in this article I consider the memoirs of a Jewish inmate doctor and forensic pathologist who worked with and for SS medical officers in Auschwitz, particularly Josef Mengele. His name was Mikló Nyiszli. . .

Turda M.  The ambiguous victim: Miklós Nyiszli’s narrative of medical experimentation in Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Historein. 2014; 14(1): 43–58. doi:  10.12681/historein.232

Book Review: Moral Conscience Through the Ages: Fifth Century BCE to the Present

THE (Times Higher Education)
Reproduced with permission

Tom Palaima

Moral Conscience Through the Ages

Richard Sorabji, Oxford University Press, 240pp, £20.00
ISBN 9780199685547. Published 30 October 2014

Always let your conscience be your guide,” sings Jiminy Cricket, conscience personified as a kindly bowler-hatted cricket, to Pinocchio in Walt Disney’s 1940 film classic about a wooden puppet being transformed into a real-life boy. It is one of the few significant social pronouncements about the role of conscience in making us human not found in Richard Sorabji’s compact history of the ideas that important thinkers and doers, beginning with Euripides and Plato and ending with Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and Mahatma Gandhi, have had about how a conscience works, where it comes from, and what good it is, if any – Nietzsche had no use for conscience, believing that modern men “inherit thousands of years of the vivisection of conscience”.

Sorabji’s close reading of subtle arguments spanning 25 centuries, as he transliterates key Greek and Latin terms and does his best to define their particular meanings in different periods, enables us to see how later figures took up or rejected earlier ideas. Gandhi, for example, came to believe unshakeably in his “still small voice within” – no Jiminy Cricket for him – as “the true voice of God”, as it steeled his commitment to non-violent social actions. Gandhi’s voice of God, we learn, sounded a lot like Tolstoy in his 1894 treatise The Kingdom of God is Within You and Socrates in Plato’s Apology, set in 399BC.

The Greek word for conscience first appears in passages in the work of late 5th-century playwrights where characters wrestle with what we would call moral choices, or defects in Sorabji’s view. The Greek compound verbal formation expresses the notion of a shared knowing (sun: “with” and oida: “know”, literally “I saw and I still see”), Latin con-sciens. The precise meaning of conscience is further complicated by the abstract nouns used for it that are derived from other verbal roots, eg, sunesis and the Latinised sunderesis. The notion of with-ness is the common element.

The key question is: shared with whom? In Sorabji’s view – surprisingly given the role that conscience plays in our interactions with others – we share our thoughts about moral behaviour and moral choices with ourselves. Conscience splits us into two people. From this come expressions like “I could not live with myself” and feelings of having a voice within or a cricket or guardian angel advising from without, as in Freud’s superego or Socrates’ daimōn.

Sorabji also argues that the original concept of conscience, ie, “sharing knowledge with oneself of a defect”, was a largely secular idea. Stoics and Christians turned conscience into a religious concept associated with the law or will of gods or God. Michel de Montaigne, Hobbes and John Locke began a resecularisation process that continued through Thoreau’s civil disobedience and then on to conscientious objection to armed service during the First World War.

But what does a largely secular idea in ancient Greek look like in context? Sorabji gives few original source passages at any length. Conscience appears as a daimōn in Plato’s Apology and arguably also in Euripides’ Orestes, where grief is called a terrible goddess in a kind of chiasmus. So how the Greeks viewed daimones becomes relevant to whether conscience ab origine is secular or religious or something in between. And Hesiod’s thoughts two centuries earlier in Works and Days about daimones as immortal and beneficent guardians of justice should be relevant, too.

Tom Palaima is professor of Classics, University of Texas at Austin.

The Hippocratic “oath” (Some further reasonable hypotheses)

Sergio Musitelli*, Ilaria Bossi*

The Hippocratic "oath" (Some further reasonable hypotheses)


Although 65 treatises – either preserved or lost, but quoted by ancient authors like Bacchius (3rd century B.C.), Erotian (1st century A.D.) and Galen (c. 129-199 A.D.) – are ascribed to Hippocrates (c. 469-c. 399 B.C.) and consist of nearly 83 books, nonetheless there is no doubt that none of them was written by Hippocrates himself. This being the fact, we cannot help agreeing with Ulrich von Wilamowitz Möllendorf (1848-1931), who maintained that Hippocrates is a name without writings!

Indeed the most of the treatises of the “Corpus hippocraticum” are not the collection of Hippocrates’ works, but were likely the “library” of the Medical School of Kos. The fact that it contains some treatises that represent the theories of the Medical school of Cnidos (most probably founded by a certain Euryphon, almost contemporary with Hippocrates), with which it seems that Hippocrates entered into a relentless debate, is an absolute evidence.

Moreover, we must confess that, although Celsus (1st century B.C.-1st century A.D.) (De medicina, I, Prooemium) writes that “Hippocrates of Kos…separated this branch of learning (i.e. Medicine) from the study of philosophy”, we have nothing to learn from the hippocratic treatises under the scientific point of view.

However, whatever its origin, the “Oath” is a real landmark in the ethics of medicine and we can say – with Thuchydides (460/455-400 B.C.) (Histories, I, 22, 4) – that it is “an achievement for eternity”.

Suffice it to remember that every graduand in Medicine is generally still bound to take an oath that is a more or less modified and more or less updated text of the “Hippocratic oath” and that even the modern concept of bioethics has its very roots in the Hippocratic medical ethics.

“The art is long; life is short; opportunity fleeting; experiment treacherous; judgment difficult: The physician must be ready, not only to do his duty himself, but also to secure the co-operation of the patient, of the attendants and of externals, ” says the first “Aphorism” and the latest author of “Precepts” (chapter VI) writes: “where there is love of man, there is also love of the art”, and the “art” par excellence is medicine! These precepts go surely back to Hippocrates’s moral teaching.

Nonetheless, the preserved text of the marvellous “Oath” raises many problems. Namely:

1) which is the date of it”?

2) Is it mutilated or interpolated?

3) Who took the oath, i.e. all the practitioners or only those belonging to a guild?

4) What binding force had it beyond its moral sanction”?

5) Last but not least: was it a reality or merely a “counsel of perfection”?

In this article we have gathered and discussed all the available and most important sources, but do not presume to have solved all these problems and confine ourselves to proposing some reasonable hypotheses and letting the readers evaluate the positive and negative points of our proposals. [Full Text]

Musitelli S, Bossi I. The Hippocratic “oath” (Some further reasonable hypotheses). Research 2014; 1:733

U.S. Responses to Japanese Wartime Inhuman Experimentation after World War II: National Security and Wartime Exigency

Howard Brody, Sarah E. Leonard, Jing-Bao Nie, Paul Weindling

Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics


In 1945–46, representatives of the U.S. government made similar discoveries in both Germany and Japan, unearthing evidence of unethical experiments on human beings that could be viewed as war crimes. The outcomes in the two defeated nations, however, were strikingly different. In Germany, the United States, influenced by the Canadian physician John Thompson, played a key role in bringing Nazi physicians to trial and publicizing their misdeeds. In Japan, the United States played an equally key role in concealing information about the biological warfare experiments and in securing immunity from prosecution for the perpetrators. The greater force of appeals to national security and wartime exigency help to explain these different outcomes.

Brody H, Leonard SE, Nie J-B, Weindling P. U.S. Responses to Japanese Wartime Inhuman Experimentation after World War II: National Security and Wartime Exigency. Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics / Volume 23 / Issue 02 / April 2014, pp 220-230

Nuremberg and the Issue of Wartime Experiments on US Prisoners

The Green Committee

Jon M. Harkness

Journal of the American Medical Association


Defense attorneys at the Nuremberg Medical Trial argued that no ethical difference existed between experiments in Nazi Concentration camps and research in U.S. prisons. Investigations that had taken place in an Illinois prison became an early focus of this argument. Andrew C. Ivy, MD, whom the American Medical Association had selected as a consultant to the Nuremeberg prosecutors, responded to courtroom crticisim of research in his home state by encouraging the Illinois governor to establish a committee to evaluate prison research. The governor names a committee and accepted Ivy’s offer to chair the panel. Late in the trial, Ivy testified – drawing on the authority of this committee – that research on Us prisoners was ethically ideal. However, the governor’s committee had never met. After the trial’s conclusion, the report was published in JAMA, where it became a source of support for experimentation on prisoners.

Harkness J. Nuremberg and the Issue of Wartime Experiments on US Prisoners: The Green Committee. JAMA. 1996;276(20):1672–1675. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03540200058032