Scholars working on the history of human experimentation have long puzzled over the neglect of medical research ethics in the first two decades after World War II, a period that saw a vast increase in human experimentation in medicine but that seems to have been characterized by a lack of moral leadership among physicians. This essay reexamines this notion by drawing on ethical debates about human experimentation in the Dutch medical profession between 1945 and 1971. In the international literature, Dutch physicians are often singled out as having been exceptionally quick to note the need for better research ethics after World War II. This essay, however, shows that it is a mistake to identify these Dutch concerns as one of those exceptions that ultimately proves the rule. Instead, the Dutch ethics discourse developed in this period sought to carve out a legitimate space for “good medical research,” where “good” stood simultaneously for “methodologically valid” and “ethically just” and where research ethics committees were imagined to function as epistemic filters that would increase both the quality and the quantity of human experimentation in medicine. This connection between ethics and episteme has hitherto received little attention in the history of research ethics governance but remains a core element of medical research ethics today.

dx.doi.org/10.1086/712205, hdl.handle.net/1765/133330
ISIS : a journal of the History of Science Society
Erasmus MC: University Medical Center Rotterdam

Jacobs, N. (Noortje). (2020). A moral obligation to proper experimentation: Research ethics as epistemic filter in the aftermath of world war ii. ISIS : a journal of the History of Science Society, 111(4), 759–780. doi:10.1086/712205