Are mandatory vaccinations in direct violation of the Nuremberg Code? No, that's not true: The Nuremberg Code, a set of principles that grew out of the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War II, applies to human experimentation, not approved vaccines.
The claim appeared in an article (archived here) published by EnvirowatchRangitikei on July 23, 2020. The article, which was titled "Mandatory vaccination is in direct violation of the Nuremberg Code," opened with an explanation of the Nuremberg Code. It read:
When World War II ended in 1945, the victorious Allied powers enacted the International Military Tribunal on November 19th, 1945. As part of the Tribunal, a series of trials were held against major war criminals and Nazi sympathizers holding leadership positions in political, military, and economic areas. The first trial conducted under the Nuremberg Military Tribunals in 1947 became known as The Doctors' Trial, in which 23 physicians from the German Nazi Party were tried for crimes against humanity for the atrocious experiments they carried out on unwilling prisoners of war.
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The article goes on to quote the 10 elements of the Nuremberg Code. It also includes an image that shows a part of the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, principles put forward by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and separate from the Nuremberg Code.
First, let's take a look at the Nuremberg Code. It clearly addresses the ethics around human experimentation, not approved vaccines. The Nuremberg Code was developed in response to medical experiments conducted on prisoners by Nazi doctors during the Holocaust. Vaccines are not mentioned anywhere in the code.
Second, let's consider the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights. Specifically, the article cites Article 6, which addresses consent. It reads, in part:
Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. The consent should, where appropriate, be express and may be withdrawn by the person concerned at any time and for any reason without disadvantage or prejudice.
So, do mandatory vaccinations violate this principle?
No, according to Lawrence Gostin, a Georgetown University professor who studies public health law. In an email to Lead Stories, he characterized the claim as a "conspiracy theory." He wrote:
Vaccines are to protect the public's health. States are fully permitted, indeed obliged, to protect public health and safety and the vast majority do.
In fact, states' authority to require mandatory vaccinations has been established for well over a century. It was upheld by the Supreme Court in Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1905.
The question of states' rights as they relate to vaccinations is under scrutiny now because of COVID-19. But this outbreak is not the first event that's prompted a look at states' powers.
Back in 2006, the AMA Journal of Ethics addressed the question of whether mandatory vaccinations are legal during the time of an epidemic. It considered the hypothetical case of SARS and an Illinois college student in China for a study abroad program. Citing the Jacobson ruling, the journal found that the student would not have a valid argument against mandatory vaccination.
And last year, amid a measles outbreak in seven U.S states, the Congressional Research Service, a public policy research institute, released a legal sidebar that examined vaccination requirements. It read, in part:
The states' general police power to promote public health and safety encompasses the authority to require mandatory vaccinations. Pursuant to this authority, states and localities have long enacted various compulsory vaccination laws for certain populations and circumstances, including for school children and certain health care workers and in cases of public health emergency. In the early part of the 20th Century, the Supreme Court twice considered constitutional challenges to such mandatory vaccination requirements. Each time, the Court rejected the challenges and recognized such laws to fall squarely within the states' police power.
In other words, mandatory vaccinations do not violate U.S. law. They also do not violate the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights; nor do they violate the Nuremberg Code, which does not apply to approved vaccines.