Jacobs, N. MA

Historicizing Medical Ethics. A history of clinical research ethics in the Netherlands after the Second World War


Prof. F. Huisman and Prof. T. Swierstra


The emergence of clinical research ethics as an intellectual paradigm and research practice after the Second World War is often narrated as a tale of progress, in which the medical ethicist values of autonomy, justice and beneficence are imagined to have sprung to life in the 1947 Nuremberg Code, grown up in international codes and declarations and gained adulthood in national legislation, institutional review boards and full-time professorships, research institutions and academic journals. In the second half of the twentieth century, in other words, clinical research ethics is envisioned to have become an academic discipline, which strives to formulate universal principles that can be formalized in robust legal frameworks.

This PhD-project aims to historicize this narrative by investigating the formulation and formalization of clinical research ethics in the Netherlands after the Second World War and comparing it to similar developments in the United States of America. It does so on the premise that a representation of medical ethics as a transcendent form of knowledge falls short of a thorough understanding of the ways in which biomedical theories and principles interact with the specific historical context in which they come to crystallize. Mapping the ways in which clinical research ethics have historically been understood, mobilized and institutionalized can contribute valuable insights for both historians and medical ethicists into the complexities and contingencies of developing robust medico-ethical principles for experimental tests upon human beings in a globalising world.