How can scientists act ethically when they are studying the victims of a human tragedy, such as the Romanian orphans?
Romania has had orphanages for centuries. But its orphan crisis began in 1965, when the communist Nicolae Ceaușescu took over as the country’s leader. Over the course of his 24-year rule, Ceaușescu deliberately cultivated the orphan population in hopes of creating loyalty to — and dependency on — the state. In 1966, he made abortion illegal for the vast majority of women. He later imposed taxes on families with fewer than five children and even sent out medically trained government agents — ‘The Menstrual Police’ — to examine women who weren’t producing their quota. But Ceaușescu’s draconian economic policies meant that most families were too poor to support multiple children. So, without other options, thousands of parents left their babies in government-run orphanages.
By Christmas day in 1989, when revolutionaries executed Ceaușescu and his wife by firing squad, an estimated 170,000 children were living in more than 700 state orphanages.
Mengele escaped capture after the war, but 20 other Nazi doctors were tried in a US military tribunal in Nuremberg, Germany. The judges at these trials created a list of 10 ethical tenets for human research, known as the Nuremberg Code. These included voluntary consent, avoidance of suffering, and the right of the subject to end the experiment at any time.