The U.S.’s Hubertus Strughold Award

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the controversy surrounding the Hubertus Strughold Award given by the American Space Medicine Association.  Strughold was head of the Luftwaffe’s prominent Aeromedical Research Institute during World War II and likely oversaw experimentation on prisoners at Dachau.  This probably included the notorious hypothermia or “cold experiments,” which may have laid the foundation for his work in space medicine for the U.S. government.  Strughold was one of many scientists who were part of the “intellectual reparations” paid to the U.S. following the war, a program known as Operation Paperclip (for information on Paperclip, link here for the Jewish Virtual Library article).  Strughold would go on to become the “Father of Space Medicine” and have an award named in his honor in 1963.

Among the reports filed by the Nuremberg Trials, there is both a numbering of Strughold among those involved in experimentation at Dachau and a record of his denial of involvement on “grounds of medical ethics.”  So, there is still some debate on his legacy as a medical researcher.  However, the story of Hubertus Strughold, with its origin in Germany and its meanderings in the United States, may offer us useful lessons in ethics.  This case may bring to light something that could be the Achilles heel of American culture and, in turn, American medicine.  There often seems to be a tendency among us to partition our lives in such a way as to avoid culpability.  Strughold never had any political involvement in the U.S. during his lifetime and was probably viewed simply as an “intellectual asset,” a source of data much like a laptop.  It’s the data were after in the long run, so as long as there is a consent form on file with a signature at the bottom, we move ahead.  Of course, that’s not the case at all.  Ethics involves human beings; and not only the human being that is the patient but the human being that is the researcher or the physician.

The Space Medicine Association has no page for the Hubertus Strughold Award on its website, but it does have a page with an interesting quote by Wernher von Braun: “Man is not made for space.  But with the help of biologists and medical doctors, he can be prepared and accommodated.”

 

 

 

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Annie JacobsenplaneDocMartin SandelRusty SkillsJon Holmlund Recent comment authors
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Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

The WSJ article was well worth noting. In addition to Cody’s points, we might add the question of whether concerns about moral complicity make it unethical even to cite the Nazi research. My understanding is that there is a pretty strong current in bioethics saying that it is. I’m sympathetic with that position; it’s not ethical to build one’s research on prior, grossly unethical research. Where would a rigorous application of that have left space medicine? I’m not sure. And what of stem cell research as it advances along lines more ethical than those requiring creation or destruction of human… Read more »

Rusty Skills
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Rusty Skills

The WSJ article was an example of careless (and therefore unethical) journalism. Strughold’s record was reviewed multiple times over the years by multiple agencies and ZERO evidence was found to implicate him in those unethical experiments. In fact, among documents investigated by the US State Department, it was found that Strughold voiced opposition to the Luftwaffe Surgeon General regarding the use of prisoners in medical research. This was immediately following his attendance at a scientific conference in 1942 where he learned of this practice. Prosecutors at Nuremburg concluded there was no evidence to warrant any further investigation of Strughold; his… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

None of those investigations looked at the 1942 study of children with seizure disorders, from a psychiatric institute, that were placed in the hypobaric chamber at the German Institute of Aviation medicine, headed by Dr Strughold, to see if seizures would arise from the high altitude exposure. The WSJ cites the author of the study, and the study (in German) is easily available. That information was uncovered in just the past decade. Thus the wartime investigations, and those that followed did not have access to the facts of this unethical study. The point of the article is not that Dr… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

Here is the reference for the experiment where the children with seizure disorder were placed in the high altitude chamber at the Institute run by Dr Strughold to see if they could induce seizures in the children. It has been translated into English: Hans-Walter Schmuhl — citation: Grenzuberschreitungen. Das Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut fur Antropologie, menschliche Erblehre und Eugenik, 1927-1945 The National Library of Medicine has the book in English (Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, 1927-1945: crossing boundaries). Re-reading the WSJ article of 1 December 2012 I note that there is no denial of Dr Strughold’s accomplishments. There is… Read more »

Annie Jacobsen
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Hi there planeDoc,
I am a journalist and author.

Having interviewed Prof. Schmuhl about his work and this matter, I see your comments as spot on. Might we have a brief chat? I would like quote something you wrote. Wanted to clarify.

Thank you,

Annie Jacobsen ([email protected])

Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

With regard to the specifics about Dr. Strughold, I do not claim detailed knowledge–nor did Cody appear to pass judgment on him specifically. What the WSJ article should do is prompt us to reflect on what Cody did–to wit, the risk in human subject research of regarding informed consent mechanically, overlooking basic ethical issues or grossly midjudging them. Certainly the 20th century history of bioethics is replete with notorious examples. And my point was not about Dr. Strughold personally, but about how to regard data from frankly unethical research–of which the Nazis were indeed amply guilty. And yes, vaccine research… Read more »

Martin Sandel
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Martin Sandel

It is evident those quoting the children study did not actually read it. First, yes, it is unethical to use human subjects without consent – there is no denial of that. But we also must realize we are living in 2012 and we are putting research practices of 60 years ago under the microscope of our current ethical standards. While Strughold had nothing to do with the children’s study (it was conducted by an entirely different institute who borrowed a chamber for part of one day that happened to be on the grounds where Strughold worked) those that did were… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

So basically you are comfortable with the experiment that was to try to induce seizures in children, not only nothing of therapeutic value to them, which failed only (in your words) because the experimenters did not use severe enough experimental conditions. Whereas in the words of the experimenters they only regretted not having children of a more suitable age to compare with the relatively younger rabbits, who did suffer convulsions. You then also need to make all the other assumptions that this was done without the knowledge of the head of the institute, basically a Friday lark. Altitude chamber operation… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

The English and German versions of the publication can be partially viewed online at Google. The URL below will take you to the English version. Dr Strughold is listed on pages 330 and 333. http://books.google.com/books?id=LeQusx57mpkC&q=strughold#v=onepage&q&f=false The Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics … By Hans-Walter Schmuhl Springer, Jan 1, 2008 – 467 pages The historical study documents in the Google online version on page 333 that the experiments were done 17 September, 1943 in Prof. Strugholt’s [sic] vacuum chamber. This statement is a from the experimentalists, named and reference given in the quote. I recommend that followers… Read more »

Jon Holmlund
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Jon Holmlund

Oh, I do find your arguments persuasive, planeDoc. As a commenter here, if I have been reticent to weigh in on Dr. Strughold personally it is only because I am reluctant to do so without spending more time on the specifics (such as reading the entire book you recommend) than I am able to commit at present. Based on what I have read I would have a hard time exonerating him. My earlier comments were intended to point out that we ought not hide behind the clearly unethical examples of the Nazis, and ignore other severe breaches of ethics in… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

Yes I also agree, the comments apply to all such ethical breaches. I will look for your post Dec 11.

planeDoc
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planeDoc

The references I just posted deal with the many documented medical abuses and unethical lapses, and the Strughold component is a very small part of the many examples. The emphasis of all the references from my other post is on the State sponsored (including USA) medical research that was clearly unethical or just plain sadistic. The persistent thread of eugenics, State utility, and racism permeates many of the examples. Sir Ronald Fisher, described by some as the father of modern statistics and experimental design, was also an ardent eugenicist, favoring forced sterilization and other attempts to ‘improve’ the human genome.… Read more »

planeDoc
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planeDoc

Dr Strughold was the director of the Reich Ministry of Aviation’s Research Institute for Aeronautical Medicine (Luftfahrtmedizinisches Forschungsinstitut des Reichsluftfahrtministeriums) which was a military institution. The epileptic children used in the altitude chamber at Dr Strughold’s institute came from Goerden, from the psychiatric hospital. The researchers Ruhenstroth-Bauer and Nachtsheim were both civilians and thus had to ask the director before using the chamber and they had to inform him about their research program. Ruhenstroth-Bauer and Nachtsheim had contacted Strughold for assistance in conducting the low-pressure experiments and Dr Strughold allowed them to use one of the vacuum chambers in his… Read more »