The research ethics evolution: From Nuremberg to Helsinki

Ames Dhai


Health research sets out to acquire not only theoretical knowledge but also benefits for many people and often society as a whole, and is therefore justified. The quandary, though, is how such an important, shared purpose can be pursued with full protection of individuals and communities, in particular those with vulnerabilities. Abuses in the field surfaced in the early 1800s, and by the 1890s, anti-vivisectionists were calling for laws to protect children because of the increasing numbers of institutionalised children being subjected to unethical research. When read together, the Nuremberg Code and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be interpreted as establishing a basis for underpinning the principles of free and informed consent and avoiding harms and exploitation in scientific experiments involving human participants. The Declaration of Helsinki has been recognised as one of the most authoritative statements on ethical standards for human research in the world. 

Author's affiliations

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

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Nuremberg Code; Declaration of Helsinki; research ethics; informed consent

Cite this article

South African Medical Journal 2014;104(3):178-180. DOI:10.7196/SAMJ.7864

Article History

Date submitted: 2013-12-18
Date published: 2014-01-20

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