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  • Micah Coate

Covid, the Code, and the Place for Christian Ethics

Updated: Apr 27

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” — Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

I had a general knowledge of the Nuremberg Trials and its subsequent Code following World War II, but like most things I thought I knew, it turned out to be superficial and naive after a deeper reading of history. In the wake of COVID-19, the Nuremberg Code, (having celebrated its 75th year as of August 2022) is being shed in a new and uncomfortable light and as Christians, our ethics must be aware of it.


After much research, Ken McCarthy, the publisher of the 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of The Nuremberg Code, noted in August of 2022 that strangely, “the 75th Anniversary of the Code was almost universally ignored by the medical ethics profession.” 1 That the Code’s birthdate was unknown by the public shouldn’t be surprising, but to be forgotten or intentionally ignored by most of the professional branch of ethics that specifically analyzes medicine and its scientific research definitely should.


In case you’ve forgotten, “The Nuremberg Code is a set of ethical research principles for human experimentation.” 2 It was created as a result of the Nuremberg trials, in which a handful (twenty-three) of Nazi physicians and military leaders were sentenced for war crimes and crimes against humanity after the Second World War. Not being in the medical profession, I never cared to actually read the Code — I had simply assumed that the trials and executions were a just recompense for the atrocities of those few deranged medical doctors in the Third Reich who experimented, tortured, and murdered countless Jews during Hitler’s Final Solution (the code name to exterminate every Jew in Europe).


But that’s just the end of the story that had begun decades before. No doubt, many morbid experiments were conducted on not only Jews but on anyone deemed to be insane, weak, or feeble-minded like the epileptic, schizophrenic, manic-depressive, deaf, and blind. But what I have recently learned is that this evil perpetuated on these social outcasts, referred to as Untermensch, (the undesirables or subhumans) was going on well before the War had started.


It’s not that one random day in the midst of the Third Reich the entire medical profession compromised their Hippocratic Oath and started gruesome malpractice. Nor was it just a handful of physicians who partook in these barbaric and “scientific” observations upon innocent people.


As early as the mid-1920s, German physicians embraced the Nazi ideology of eugenics — the belief that certain traits or “genes” can be denied or amplified within a population to achieve a desirable outcome. In other words, eugenics is selective breeding. This was practiced by the German government and medical field in order to promote a super-human group of people not burdened by genetic defects, otherwise known as the Aryan race.


By 1933, “The Law for the Prevention of Genetically Defective Progeny…legalized the involuntary sterilization of persons with diseases claimed to be hereditary. The law was used to encourage growth of the Aryan race through the sterilization of persons who fell under the quota of being genetically defective.” 3 By 1937 (within just four years of being legislated), “300,000 patients had been sterilized.” 4

Thus, the zeitgeist of the time manifested in politics and believed to be scientific continued to grow.

And by 1942 there were more than 38,000 German physicians actively carrying out the Third Reich’s Sterilization Law, along with many other Nazi atrocities that were implemented during the war. How could the physicians not comply? It was not only the law of the land but a practice believed to be in the best interest of the people for the betterment of humanity. Furthermore, Germany’s Sterilization law was supported by the societal elites ranging from medical professionals and scientists to academics and politicians. So when the war began in 1940, and the need to not only sterilize but exterminate more and more undesirables became apparent, those in medicine and science didn’t find it difficult to observe since they had already been doing it in part for the past decade.


Sadly by the end of the War it’s believed 3.5 million German citizens were sterilized against their will in various experimental ways, (not to mention the 11 million deaths of Jews, Poles, handicapped, and political and religious dissidents just to name a few of the people groups marked out by the Nazis).


My point is this: Fifteen years prior to the outbreak of the war in 1940, the medical community in Germany had already bought into the political ideology of promoting an Aryan race by forcibly sterilizing thousands of innocent undesirables under the guise of being a scientific benefit for the public’s welfare. The medical malfeasance under the Hitler’s regime was not limited to some mad scientists and physicians, rather it overtook the whole of the medical community years before extermination camps were built.


This is important to understand as we try to comprehend what happened in Germany 75 years ago, what lessons we can learn from it today, and how we could be more prepared in the future. As stated earlier, it was in the very midst of COVID that the Nuremberg Code was conveniently overlooked by most medical ethicists across the world, ironically on its 75th anniversary.


Two and a half years before COVID came to the United States — on the 70th anniversary of the Nuremberg Code, Jonathan D. Moreno, a Doctor in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania warned that the Nuremberg Code should not be forgotten and that groupthink must be resisted in the practice of medical science. “The embrace of Nazi ideology by German physicians, and the subsequent participation of some of their most distinguished leaders in the camp experiments, demonstrates the importance of professional independence from and resistance to the ideological and geopolitical ambitions of the authoritarian state.” 5 If Dr. Moreno believed in the importance of opposing an authoritarian state then, I wonder what he would say now in the aftermath of many clear government overreaches brought on by COVID.


Albert Einstein likewise noted that only limited power should be granted to government writing that, “The Nuremberg Trial of the German war criminals was tacitly based on the recognition of the principle: criminal actions cannot be excused if committed on government orders; conscience supersedes the authority of the law of the state.” 6

Indeed, if human conscience ultimately overrides what a state deems to be “lawful” or “scientific,”what should our Christian ethic or conscience have to say about them? And if this Christian ethic should be found in the church, why was she largely silent over these last years?


In conclusion, if you haven’t read the short ten points of the Nuremberg Code, you should. If you think Christian ethics should’ve played a larger role in how our leaders handled COVID, you’re right. I propose it was the very failure to articulate, verbalize, and stand for them that led to Nuremberg’s Code being severely broken under our government’s restrictions, lockdowns, and mandates brought upon us by the pandemic and the vaccine. Both then and now, medicine and science was politicized. Our Christian ethic must rise above that.


But what do you think?


Micah Coate, President and Host of Salvation and Stuff

  1. McCarthy, Ken, The 75th Anniversary Commemorative Edition of The Nuremberg Code, Brasscheck Press, 2022, Publisher’s Note, p.v.

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nuremberg_Code, Accessed March 5, 2023.

  3. Gardella JE. The cost-effectiveness of killing: an overview of Nazi "euthanasia." Medical Sentinel 1999;4:132-5, Assessed March 5th, 2023.

  4. Dahl M. , Prax Kinderpsychol Kinderpsychiatr 2001;50:170-91, Assessed March 5th, 2023.

  5. Jonathan D. Moreno, Ph.D. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2649074, Assessed March 5th, 2023.

  6. Albert Einstein (Albert Einstein (2010). “The Ultimate Quotable Einstein”, p.283, Princeton University Press), Assessed March 5th, 2023.

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