Group debates experiment’s ethics


Society holds mock trial to consider morals behind Nazi’s research for today’s use


The Rutgers Bioethics Society examined the ethical boundaries of science on Wednesday through a mock trial that showed students an alternative perspective to Nazi experiments.

Board members created a trial — at the ARC on Busch campus — in which they examined the ethics of Sigmund Rascher, a Nazi scientist. Rascher performed freezing experiments on humans to see how long it would take to lower the body temperature until reaching death, said Spruha Magodia, president of RBS.

Members of RBS debated whether or not the methods from Rascher’s experiment could be used to solve medical problems today, Magodia, a School of Arts and Sciences senior said. 

“This topic is really intense, so we decided to take an approach that would engage students and really let them see, hypothetically, what Rascher’s trial would have been like,” she said.

Though the vote was split 7-3, the majority of the club members found Rascher to be guilty and sentenced him with the death penalty.

Neil Patel, vice president of RBS, played the role of Rascher during the trial, in which he answered questions that raised ethical issues in his practice.

“Rodents in experiments would be useless. They are nothing like humans. I needed to use humans to have accurate data,” said Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, acting as Rascher.

Akanksha Arya, programming chair of RBS, played the prosecutor in the case and said Rascher performed experiments without anesthesia or consent from Jewish prisoners.

Rascher’s experiments included putting prisoners outside in the snow for 14 hours to test the limits of the human body, said Arya, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Patel said Rascher conducted the experiments to find ways to treat hypothermia.

Some of the data Rascher found through the experiments is capable of helping the medical world today, Magodia said. His experiment with hypothermia led to the discovery of “Rapid Active Re-Warming,” a technique to resuscitate victims of hypothermia through quick methods of warming.

After hearing about the experiments Rascher performed, the jury — which consisted of RBS members — considered Rascher’s technique and whether his discoveries should be used today, Magodia said.

Matthew Lawlor, a member of RBS, said he found Rascher to be guilty, but it should not prohibit society from using his research today.

“It depends on the data. If one of the Nazi scientists found the cure for AIDS, then of course we would all want to use it. … It’s a mixture between the urge to destroy this evil and the urge to put the data to good use,” said Lawlor, a School of Arts and Sciences senior.

Patel said the case at hand is controversial because it weighs the benefits of science at the cost of human dignity.

“A lot of the students here work in labs, and we always make sure that we give our subjects — mostly rats — dignity and euthanize them if they are in pain. This particular discussion makes you wonder if ethics puts boundaries on science,” he said.


By Elizabeth Kearns

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