World Medical Association, a haven for leading Nazi doctors

In 1946, the World Medical Association (WMA) was formed by representatives of 32 national medical associations. In 1947, one month after the conclusion of the Nuremberg Trial, the WMA held its first meeting, when it adopted a new physician’s oath, omitting injunctions against abortion and euthanasia. Almost from its inception, the WMA came under the influence of the pharmaceutical industry and the financial contributions of the American Medical Association (Lederer, 2007).

In 1951, the WMA voted to include the Japanese medical association, 30 of 31; and voted 28 in favor of Germany’s medical association.

“Acceptance into the world community of professional medical associations freed the Bundesärztekammer (Bund) of any moral shackles arising out of the Hitler period. Morally unencumbered, the Federal Chamber was able to choose as its first postwar leaders three doctors with strong links to the Nazi era.

The first, Dr. Karl Haedekamp, was an alumnus of both the Nazi Party and SA brownshirts who had worked as a party functionary in implementing racial policy. The second, Dr. Ernst Fromm, had been a member of both the SA and the SS. Fromm’s successor, Prof. Dr. Hans Joachim Sewering, had been a member of the Nazi Party and the SS and was directly linked with the death of a child, Babette Fröwis, murdered in the child euthanasia program” (Seidelman, From the Danube to the Spree: Deception, Truth and Morality in Medicine, 1999).

Once accepted as members of the world body, representatives of the German Bund asserted their influence, politically and financially. The treasurer of the WMA was a German representative and the WMA bank was that of the Bund. The WMA journal was edited and published by officials of the German doctors’ organization. Dr. Ernst Fromm, the SA and SS alumnus, became the WMA president for 1973–74.

It is not unreasonable to suspect that the Nazi presence on the WMA, may have had an impact on internationally accepted ethical standards in medicine — in particular standards regarding experimentation on humans. In the Nuremberg Code the principle of informed consent is supreme. In the WMA Declarations of Helsinki which physicians have preferred as the accepted code for human experimentation, informed consent was relegated from the first to the ninth position (Seidelman, From Danube to Spree, 1999).