The Nuremberg Code and COVID-19 vaccines

Following the development and subsequent global rollout of successful COVID-19 vaccines one particular anti-vaccine trope has been delivered with increasing gusto. Namely that the administration of these vaccines is in breach of the Nuremberg Code.

This isn’t the first time the Nuremberg Code has been used by the anti-vaccination lobby in an attempt to argue against the legality of vaccination. It is however the most widespread use of this piece of disinformation to date. It also includes the threat that health professionals will be tried as war criminals. To arrive at the conviction that COVID-19 vaccination is in breach of the Nuremberg Code, a triumph of non-critical reasoning is necessary. Specifically that the vaccine rollout is an ongoing experiment and that recipients have not given informed consent.

The latter is a misguided application of the first point of the Code. Global, real time scrutiny of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout means recipients are better informed when giving consent than for any other vaccine in history. Whilst the first point of the Code includes the most lengthy accompanying explanation of all ten points in the Code, it opens with the requirement:

The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.

Background

An early claim that vaccine recipients are denied informed consent can be found in a 1997 NBC interview with Barbara Loe Fisher and her related article on the NVIC website [Archive]. Loe Fisher provides five bullet points contending there is inadequate knowledge of injury, death, side effects, vaccine failure and that vaccination, “could reasonably be termed as experimental each time it is performed on a healthy individual”. The postulation at play here is that if such uncertainty exists then informed consent cannot be given. Another ambitious claim is that post-marketing surveillance of vaccines is “a de facto experiment”.

Further on in the article the Nuremberg Code itself is addressed and the deception immediately begins apace. Loe Fisher exploits the words of physician and ethicist Jay Katz. His work is included in Nazi Doctors and The Nuremberg Code – Human Rights in Human Experimentation. Loe Fisher selectively chose in part:

The rights of individuals to thoroughgoing self-determination and autonomy must come first. Scientific advances may be impeded, perhaps even become impossible at times, but this is a price worth paying.

As the tone indicates, this is a quote about human experimentation, not vaccination as Barbara Loe Fisher is suggesting. The article trots on to mislead readers that, “bioethicist Arthur Caplan concurred when he said”:

The Nuremberg Code explicitly rejects the moral argument that the creation of benefits for many justifies the sacrifice of the few. Every experiment, no matter how important or valuable, requires the express voluntary consent of the individual. The right of individuals to control their bodies trumps the interest of others in obtaining knowledge or benefits from them.

Jay Katz passed away in 2008. Arthur Caplan is a professor of bioethics at New York University and in June last year informed FactCheck.org that the NVIC use of his quote is “completely erroneous” and reflected “ignorance of history and ethics”. He also observed that it is:

… a gross disservice to the victims of brutal Nazi experiments to distort my words for lame anti-science that will kill people if this bilge is taken seriously.

The above quote is no doubt not lost on those familiar with the harm anti-vaccine activists ultimately achieve and the disrespect they so often reveal in doing so. It also brings to mind the reality surrounding the Nuremberg Code. It is the result of one of the Nuremberg trials that followed the Second World War. The Doctors’ Trial (USA vs Brandt) focused on 23 German doctors and administrators who performed unethical, inhumane experiments in concentration camps and 3.5 million sterilisations of German citizens.

The Nuremberg Code itself has a controversial history surrounding authorship and was largely ignored for 20 years following the Nuremberg trials. In The Nuremberg Code and the Nuremberg Trial: A Reappraisal, Jay Katz wrote that careful reading of the judgement indicates it was written:

…for the practice of human experimentation whenever it is being conducted.

The vaccine ‘experiment’

This helps us appreciate the importance of, and the rationale behind, insisting that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an experiment. In the last post I covered another reason as to why the anti-vaccine lobby pushes this line. Namely to wrongly claim that hospital cover for adverse events following immunisation will be withheld by insurance companies on the basis that the vaccine is an “experimental treatment”. The trial it is alleged runs until 2023.

Helped by a widely disseminated video from the UK (here), misinformation regarding the Pfizer Phase III clinical trial is sustaining the belief that a long term “experiment” involves all vaccine recipients. This is demonstrably false. In fact the clinical study description cited in the video refers to the original participants who will be followed on a post-marketing basis until 6 April 2023. In a comprehensive 10 December 2020 article Pfizer report under Adverse Events:

Safety monitoring will continue for 2 years after administration of the second dose of vaccine.

In Australia Meryl Dorey of the Australian Vaccination-risks Network has been quite vocal about Nuremberg Code breaches. She contends the “experiment” is admitted to by the TGA, FDA and European Medicines Agency. In fact the Australian TGA provisional approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine is valid until February 2023. This is almost certainly a source of added confidence regarding the false claim of an ongoing experiment.

On 13 March 2021 during Under The Wire (Source) Dorey spoke about, “crimes against humanity as determined by the Nuremberg Code” due to COVID-19 vaccine administration and the so-called ‘vaccine passport’. At one time she challenged, “if you even believe that COVID exists”. Download the MP3 here or listen below.

Meryl Dorey followed this with a firm message warning medical professionals. MP3 here or listen below.

War crimes

During the same episode Dorey presented a flyer (below) warning “all medical practitioners” involved in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout that they will be on trial for war crimes and held accountable. These flyers continue to be letter dropped, faxed and placed on car windscreens to reach doctors and nurses.

To suggest that medical practitioners will be subject to war crimes is as baffling as it is offensive. The claim is international and again hints at a massive break down in critical thinking. Only cursory reflection is needed to realise that administering a vaccine during peacetime cannot possibly constitute a war crime regardless of the human rights issues one may think apply. The Nuremberg Code reflects not only what happened during the Second World War but also the ethical standards that existed in Germany before the war.

Nuremberg Code and ‘No Jab No Pay’

Use of the Nuremberg Code as an argument against vaccination legislation was honed in Australia in response to the Social Services Legislation Amendment (No Jab, No Pay) Bill in 2015. The legislation ensures a childcare benefit, rebate and a tax benefit supplement will be withheld from parents of children under 20 years of age who are not fully immunised. This legislative amendment followed community concern in response to “conscientious objection” to immunisation.

Submissions to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs arguing against the Bill focussed often on the argument that informed consent would be denied. There are a number of examples and the following are indicative. Submission 511 offers further insight into the first point of the Nuremberg Code. Namely that consent should be:

…without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.

And:

By refusing welfare payments to family’s (sic), this is a clear form of financial duress and coercion (and also over-reaching by Government). Some families rely on welfare payments to enable or assist them to provide for their family. To deny access to welfare payments is coercion of parents to subject their children to a medical procedure. 

Submission 508 also refers to the first point of the Nuremberg Code and suggests that the Australian Immunisation Handbook, in its section on consent, reflects a hitherto unknown aspect of the Code. The author notes:

The Australian Immunisation Handbook reflects the Nuremberg Code is requiring valid consent as a pre-cursor to vaccination.

Another submission combined the My Will command with reference to the Nuremberg Code, the Australian constitution, the Immunisation Handbook and the 2005 Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights, Article 6, Section 1. Despite the use of so many references to rights and ethics (Submission 511 also cited the AMA code of ethics and the Victorian Charter of Human Rights) the submissions highlight a common flaw. No Jab No Pay is an incentive. Indeed to see it as active coercion and ignore the harm caused by vaccine preventable diseases is uniquely selfish.

As a testament to how the anti-vaccine lobby manage to keep alive the notion that vaccines constitute grave abuses of human rights we can see that Article 6 of the UDBHR has also been trotted out today for COVID-19 vaccines. A striking LTE in the Elko Daily alluded to the Pfizer clinicaltrials.gov information, the Nuremberg Code and the UDBHR. Article 6, section 1 states:

Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be expressed and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice.

Despite the vocal insistence of an experiment being run without consent the main antagonists of the anti-vaccination lobby are aware this is a false claim. Enter the inane insistence that the COVID-19 vaccine is set to be mandatory in developed nations. The AVN still push the tired line that Scott Morrison aims to make it “as mandatory as possible”, despite his very clear walk back of that unfortunate statement. The next “march against mandatory vaccination” is set for 29 May 2021.

Nuremberg Code Today

As for the Nuremberg Code itself an adequate critique is beyond the scope of this post. Nonetheless, whilst it does reflect important ethical standards it is likely not legally enforceable. It has not been adopted by any government and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is more readily recognised. Of major importance in this regard is the CIA post 9/11 experimental torture programme that utilised unwilling human subjects. Critiques of the Code raise justifiable concerns from its acceptance of animal experimentation to the arguably ridiculous item five which states:

No experiment should be conducted, where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur; except, perhaps, in those experiments where the experimental physicians also serve as subjects.

Today the recognised standard for medical ethics is the World Medical Association’s Helsinki Declaration. It may be considered superior to the Nuremberg Code for one simple reason. That of regular revision. It has been amended seven times since June 1964. The most recent occasion was in October 2013.

Conclusion

The claim that COVID-19 vaccination is in breach of the Nuremberg Code is the most recent manifestation of an anti-vaccine deception that is probably over 25 years old. It is a falsehood that relies on calculated disinformation. Namely that vaccine recipients are denied informed consent and that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout is an experiment. Social media has aided the dissemination of this claim and a genuine COVID-19 vaccine Phase III trial document is being misrepresented as confirmation of a global trial.

The Nuremberg Code was written at the time of the Nuremberg War Crime trials. As such, baseless threats that medical practitioners will be tried as war criminals are being circulated. The Nuremberg Code clearly refers to experimentation on human subjects and says nothing about vaccination. Submissions to state and federal parliament in Australia opposing the No Jab No Pay/Play Bill 2015 unsuccessfully tested the veracity of the Nuremberg Code in this respect.

As an ethical statement and historical document the Nuremberg Code is sullied by anti-vaccine disinformation. The claims are absurd, serving no purpose other than disruption of sound public health policy. The most recent incarnation targetting COVID-19 vaccines is rightly viewed as a conspiracy theory.


References

Nuremberg Code

Nuremberg Code – Experimentation not vaccines

AMA Code of ethics for doctors

Staff administering COVID vaccines are not war criminals

Do vaccinations violate human rights under the Nuremberg Code?

WMA Declaration of Helsinki

Nuremberg Betrayed: Human Experimentation & the CIA Torture Program

Last Update: 2 May 2021

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