Is It Ethical to Use Medical Data Derived From Evil Sources?

August 14, 2019

Art Caplan, PhD, a bioethicist at NYU School of Medicine, New York City, and Medscape commentator, got a call months ago that he describes as "horrific, terrifying, disturbing."

A surgeon had called to ask about the ethics of using an anatomy text created from the bodies of people killed in Nazi concentration camps. The surgeon said the only place she could find the anatomic detail she needed was in this text, and if she didn't do the delicate operation properly, her patient would lose his leg.

"I've thought about this issue over the years," Caplan said in a commentary for Medscape. "It's a very tough call." He argued that if the stakes are high for the patient, it's permissible to use immorally generated data for their benefit if there's no other source for obtaining the information.

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