BELLEVUE, Wash. -- A researcher studying hypothermia is using data from World War II Nazi death camp 'medical' experiments in which thousands of people were killed and mutilated.
'I don't want to have to use this data but there is no other and will be no other in an ethical world,' said Dr. John S. Hayward of Victoria, British Columbia.
Hayward is using the Nazi reports to learn more about survival in cold water.
In the Nazi experiments, men were held in tanks of ice water for two to five hours. Sometimes the victims, usually naked, were deliberately allowed to freeze to death. Nazi scientists measured rectal temperatures, blood and urine samples, heartbeats and breathing as the victims died.
Results from these experiments, performed to test first-aid responses for pilots shot down over the North Sea, are still used to develop new rescue and treatment programs for hypothermia victims.
The human guinea pigs for the Nazi experiments included Jews, gypsies, Polish Catholic priests and political prisoners.
The use of information gathered in inhumane scientific studies conducted by the Nazis during World War II was reported in a copyright story by the Bellevue Journal-American.
To test experimental vaccines against typhus fever, Nazis injected healthy prisoners with fever-causing ricketts bacteria. To find an effective sulfa drug to use in combat first aid, the legs of women prisoners were slit, with the wounds left to fester inside casts.
During the 1946-47 Nuremberg trial of 23 Nazi doctors, the experiments were condemned as 'not only criminal, but a scientific failure.'
'I've rationalized it a little bit,' said Hayward about his use of the Nazi data. 'But to not use it would be equally bad. I'm trying to make something constructive out of it.'
Some scientists, including Hayward, have decided against prefacing use of Nazi data with moral qualifiers, such words as 'sordid' and 'inhumane.'
But Dr. Ronald Banner of the Jewish Ethical Medical Study Group in Philadelphia said: 'I'm not against citing them, but I'm chagrined that someone would refer to those experiments without mentioning something about the way the information was gained. It shows a lack of conscience.'
Maj. Leo Alexander, who analyzed Nazi experiments while in the Army Medical Corps, said the experiments were unnecessary because earlier studies using animals demonstrated the same results.
Information on the experiments is available at medical libraries in German journals where Nazi scientists published prior to the war's end.
Another source of such data is reports published by the U.S. Army Medical Corps analyzing Nazi records captured at the end of the war.