In Practice

Exploitation of the vulnerable in research: Responses to lessons learnt in history

Amaboo Dhai


The Nuremberg Trials raised insightful issues on how and why doctors who were trained in the Hippocratic tradition were able to commit such egregious and heinous medical crimes. The vulnerable were considered to be subhuman, of decreased intelligence, of no moral status and lacking human dignity. The reputation of the medical profession had been undermined, professionalism questioned and the doctor-patient relationship damaged as a result of the Nazi medical experiments. The World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki has been hailed as one of the most successful efforts in rescuing medical research from the darkness of the scandals and tragedies in health research. The first Research Ethics Committee in South Africa was established in 1966 at the University of the Witwatersrand. From the mid-1970s other institutions followed suit. The promulgation of the National Health Act No. 61 of 2003, in 2004, resulted in strong protectionism for research participants in the country.

Author's affiliations

Amaboo Dhai, Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa

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Protectionism; Code; Guidelines; National Health Act; Research Ethics Committee

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2017;107(6):472-474. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.2017.v107i6.12437

Article History

Date submitted: 2017-05-24
Date published: 2017-05-24

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