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The experiments carried out on human subjects during World War 2 gave the people harm and have affected the health of their upcoming generations.
TOK Presentation Subject
To what extent can medical experimentation during World War 2 be judged in the aspects of ethics by using reasoning and emotions?
Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the “Science and Ethics” programme. Today we will be talking about the medical experiments carried out on human beings during World War 2. We will approach to the topic from science and ethics perspectives. Now, we will watch a video that will inform us about the event.
Medical experiments on human subject refer to testing of a treatment or a medicine on humans. During World War 2, many human beings were exposed to these clinical studies without their consent. The experiments carried out on human beings by American researchers during World War 2 gave the people harm and have affected the health of their upcoming generations.
A man called Federico Ramos who was a soldier in the Guatemalan army in 1948. One day, without any explanation, he was ordered to take place in clinic studies carried out by US doctors. This was an American experiment to see if venereal diseases caused harm to human being. He was given an injection and after that as compensation he was given a few coins to spend on prostitutes.
He is now 87 years old and believes that he was injected venereal diseases by the doctors, and so he has suffered for the effects of those injections during his life. Till his 40s, he couldn’t even pay for the medicines to cure his illnesses. He has endured bleeding while urinating, and bouts of pain.
He passed the injection even into his wife and to his children. His son has genital irritation and his daughter has canker, so lost her hairs.
These experiments were carried out on more than 5,000 Guatemalan soldiers, prisoners, people with psychiatric disorders, orphans and prostitutes without their consent. 1,308 adults were exposed to syphilis, gonorrhea and sometimes prostitutes are used even to infect prisoners and soldiers. They were all condemned as “repugnant” and “abhorrent”.
There were many countries that conducted medical experiments on humans during World War 2. Some of those countries are the USA, Germany, and Japan. Japanese doctors conducted their experiments on Chinese people, American researchers on especially African-Americans causing many people to die.
Negative and positive sides of the experimentations during World War 2
These experiments have many negative impacts on people. It is much possible that the experiments can result in mutation of the genetic cells, disability, and injury in human subjects and even at the end that person may die. For instance, 600 prisoners died in human experiments in one year in just one of the 26 prison centers because of the Japanese doctors’ experiments. The men who are used in the experiment suffer from many illnesses during their lives. Other than psychical effects, these experiments have psychological effects too. Being exposed to the clinical studies without their consent, being injected chemicals and agonizing during this time course put them into much stress and depression. Also, because of these experiments, human subjects’ upcoming generations endure many illnesses, too. They are born with permanent illnesses and they may also transmit some of those illnesses such as HIV to other people. All of these factors create a world with high population of sick people.
However, making experiments on human subject have also positive outcomes when science is considered. It is an essential method of advancing medical knowledge which has a vital importance in treatment of public health. These researches have contributed to development of science, and medicine. The results of the researches have been transferred to other generations, and many patients have been treated in the light of information collected in those experiments.
What is science in TOK?
The way by which reality is described, justified and learnt is science. It is the way of discovering the truth and making sense of reality. A Scottish Philosopher David Hume says that “A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” In parallel with what he said, the scientist, Lord Kelvin thinks that “When you cannot measure, your knowledge is meager and unsatisfactory.” Knowledge can be proven only by measurement, so scientific procedure is a way of justifying knowledge. More measurable your experiment is, more reliable and objective it is. So when we consider this World War 2 issue, can ethics limit performing experiments carried out on human being to prove our knowledge by measurement? If we describe and learn the reality and truth for mankind by these experiments, shall we ignore ethical issues for some experiments to discover the truth vital for the progressing of mankind? Also, it reminds me off the scientific revolutions and one of the theories of philosopher of science Thomas Khun saying that “the history of science suggests that, rather than progressing smoothly, science goes through a series of revolutionary jumps.” In World War 2, scientific researches reached to almost its maximum numbers. Can we evaluate this time duration full of medical experiments on humans as a medical science revolutionary jump? At this point, our emotions may lead us to decide which way to choose; limiting the experiments by ethics, or conducting all kind of experiments at one time duration with ignoring human rights. In my opinion, as science is for the development of world, for duration of time like World War 2, these experiments should have been carried out on only voluntary people and ethics should let usage humans in the experiments to some extent considering the ethical laws.
In addition to what you said; science is required to meet the needs of humanity. All the societies in the world need science to continue their lives. All those societies have their own ethics. So if science will continue among these societies, is it have to obey the rules, change itself according to society’s moral judgments? If ethics change and there is nothing as moral truth, can science which needs to be universal have conflicts with ethics? Much more questions can be formed to see the dilemma between science and ethics. So ethics is one of the most important things that must be taken to consideration while judging the science.
In this World War II event, it is obvious that science that is claimed to be for the good of humanity has some conflicts with ethics when it kills/harms/use hundreds of people. How can we decide it is ethical or not to sacrifice lots of people in order to perform science researches?
First we need to consider the principles of science to find a reasonable explanation for the experiments.
So, science is an empirical discipline. According to inductivism, science should include the steps of observation, hypothesis, experiment, law and theory. When we consider this, we can see that conducting experiments on human subjects in Word War 2 is a part of inductivism method. What the researchers in World War 2 did was what science and discovery of the truth require. According to philosopher Karl Popper, for if the science is to progress then people must question and criticize the current state of scientific knowledge. For progressing, Japanese, American and German doctors during the World War 2 tested what they predicted; for instance they tested if veneral diseases caused harm on human being. They tested on many people like Federico Ramos and by the inductive reasoning came through a result and theorized it. Here, you may ask why it is conducted on millions of people while it can be conducted on only a few voluntary people and conclusion can be drawn from less data. For this case, I should mention about the problem of induction raising the question of how many observations we should make before we entitled to make generalization. According to inductivism, the more repeatable the experiment, the better and more reliable it is. Therefore, we see testing on millions of people in W.W.II. The data collected from many people are gathered and a conclusion was drawn. However, some exceptions differing from the general trend in results may have been occurred and people who showed exception may have died. As science especially human sciences apply the law of large numbers to the scientific studies, random variations are canceled out. Considering this case, do you think it is ethical to take risk of claiming someone’s life without being sure that the result found for that person will contribute to the formation of your theory? Here science and ethics should be considered together; scientific experiments should not be totally banned, but should be limited by ethics.
Yes; in this case, we use our values but we also need to justify them and support them with reasons which is called moral reasoning. How can moral reasoning be applied to this situation? Simply following a moral principle. In this case it is “killing/giving harm to people is wrong”. If medical experiments during World War II gives harm to/kills people; doing these experiments is wrong. Here we can say that the ethical principle “killing/giving harm to people is wrong” is formed in our minds by the effects of emotions, religion and the moral judgements of the society that we are living in. It is also important to be consistent/impartial about the issue while following our moral principle. For example; if I find the medical experimentation of Japan on Chinese people immoral, and find the US’s experimentation on African-American people moral just because I have anger and prejuduce against African American people; this cannot be a moral reasoning actually, since it is inconsistent. And the interesting point is that although we all know the fact that medical experimentation on human subject was done during the World War II by the help of our history knowledge; we may not support the same idea abour the issue. I mean; the absolute fact doesn’t lead to exact moral truth. For example while I support the idea that a human’s life is sacred, so it cannot be sacrificed for science; you may say that those experimentations will save many people’s lives. This difference can be caused by the differences of moral principles which may be the result of different cultures, religions and perceptions. And these two ideas about the experimentations are not wrong and this is actually the principle of ethics. Dilemma, conflicts etc. This can prove that actually there is no moral truth.
Yes, I agree with you but I don’t want to skip the fact that these medical experiments will save many people’s lives and I want to mention more about it. In order to have reliable information on medical issues suitable for human being, it is better to conduct these experiments on human beings rather than on animals considering the fact that the results fit into reality for humans more. From this perspective, scientists tried in World War 2 to get most suitable data for humanity. However, in this case we again see the judgment of ethics for this issue. In World War 2, experiments were conducted on humans, so didn’t society judged scientific studies for crimes of millions of people by ethics and limited the science? Isn’t it a big deal that even almost 80 years have passed, we discuss its ethics in today’s world? In this issue, we can come up with the idea of existence of nonscience in crimes of millions of people and question if killing millions of people isn’t for science, is it for other purposes? Is it ethical to let the researchers make experiment on human being and “Human Rights Committee” gave permission for conducting these experiments and turn a blind eye to death of millions of people? We decide whether it is nonscience or not and criticize people for this issue by reasoning considering the diplomatic relations of the countries, such as Japan and China, and also their strategic targets. By reasoning it and thinking with my intuitions, I think, these experiments are performed for the development of science, but at the same time for the strategic targets of countries. Why I think it is not only for science but also for strategic targets? When we reason it by making connections between experiments in different groups, relying on the information taken from “Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity” by Dinah L. Shelton saying that Japanese doctors performed experiments on China to which they fight against and American doctors performed experiments on African Americans that are slaves of the USA. So I don’t think it is totally a coincidence.
This is another idea about the issue. And here; when we think that we came to the end about the issue; the result which is the lack of truth in morality leads us to another world which is moral relativism. Moral relativism in this aspect means I can only decide whether it is right or wrong to perform experiments on people without their consent by taking the advantages of war conditions just according to moral principles of my society, because I grew up in this society. My values are shaped according to this society. For example; while some countries are doing those experiments and justify themselves by claming that they are working for humanity; some other countries reacted badly against these experimentation. And they seemed overreacting. This is actually because of cultural differences. But relativism can change among the society according to people’s different personalities too. For example; when I approach to the topic like no matter what there is no right to kill people to develop science; you may say that if the experimented medication will be the cure of my illness, let people die on the way to develop science. Here; we can ask another question: can relativism provide tolerance for the experimentation on human beings which will develop science? In my opinion; it can’t be a justification for experimentation. It is important to distinguish this: it(relativism) may help me to tolerate other people’s opinions about the issue but it cannot change my idea or give me a reasonable explanation of the issue. In addition; belief in core values can work for this situation. Core values are some values which are common for most of the societies in the world. Not giving harm to/killing people is a core value in my opinion. This kind of an evaluation shows that we approach the moral truth by the help of determined core value but how can I accept killing people wrong and how can I decide that this is a core value and must be same for most of the other cultures? Using my emotions and intuitions. So the evaluation here may be misleaded because it is limited by the factors emotions and intuition. I, as a human being believe/sense that killing people is wrong and must be wrong for other human beings too. My only source of knowledge is that and so the evaluation can’t be reliable.
Opinions of a psychologist about experiments in World War 2
In medical experimentation psychological test plays a vital role. Human is not like an object, it is unpredictable thus it is not expected for human being to give proportional results against a factor, many inaccuracies may occur because of some factors like the one called observer effect especially in testing of psychology. Because of observer effect, called as Hawthorne Effect, the human subject can give different results than what occurs in his nature; intuition of human subjects can affect the results. . So we can say that the results are not totally reliable. In World War 2, many psychological experiments are carried out. Here we raise the question if it is ethical to cause people to lose their self-esteem and have some psychological problems at the end of the experiments. At this point, ethics should limit the psychological experiments to the point that subjects can still think straight act in a mentally proper way.
Opinions of a lawyer about experiments in World War 2
Medical experiments on humans during World War II were something related to law. As a lawyer I can approach to the topic in terms of rights and duties. I accept that scientists have duty to develop science and be beneficial for humanity. They have the right to continue their experiments that their scientific studies require. Killing or harming people for the medical experiments is where scientists must stop juristically, because here they attack other people’s right to fulfill their duty. Duty cannot be an excuse for encroachment. Living is the most important right of a human being. Nothing, no right can be considered before this. No right can prevent it. So giving harm to people to continue scientific studies is against law.
As we approach to the topic from different perspectives of people from different areas, we can say that this issue can be evaluated differently depending on from which point of view you want to look from. While a psychologist considers mental health of people that were exposed to experiments as human beings, a lawyer considers the rights of those people. Each consideration leads to a reasonable explanation. Here is the proof of relativism.
When we go back to the question what science is, we can say that science is the answer of our questions about being human and existence. It can be described as an another world that we think we know much about but actually know a little. Science enlightens other people. We can come to this conclusion by using even our emotions. For example when a medication is found for a deadly illness, although we are not ill, we feel relieved. When we consider our situation here, we see that it is selfish to follow such a principle. Some people can accept the medical experiments ethical just because they shape their ethics perception according to their own needs and values. Here we remind of the self-interest theory which is based on selfishness. In our case; we can say that a scientist gruop acts selfishly; and just to do their job, to develop the sector or to make name for themselves they harm other people. We all accept that this is selfishness and not ethical according to core value altruism but let’s change the case and let’s say that these scientist limit their experiments because they couldn’t harm other people. The actual reason behind the limitations now turns into this they didn’t harm other people because they knew that society will react badly against them. They knew that this is against society’s values. In this case it is selfish too, because they didn’t develop the science since they were going to get bad reactions from society. So this is not ethical too. In my opinion; self-interest theory doesn’t actually fit and work in our case. By this theory; we come up with 2 different core values: Altruism and not killing/harming people. Now it is the time to decide which is more important? I would personally say that not killing people is a more important core value. But I was affected by my emotions and intuition while saying this. So again it can’t be universal, can only be personal.
When we approach to the topic in different perspectives again, representative of the Bioethics Commission has some interesting points about the issue.
According to the bioethics commission; the experiments were not only unconscionable violations of ethics, they were also poorly conceived and executed. It was not totally necessary to kill millions of people, yes it is true that the more experiment is repeated, more reliable results are collected. However, in this poorly conceived experiment, fewer trials could have been adequate. These experiments should have been carried out in a way that functioning of the vital living organs is not affected negatively. Murder of large numbers of people is not what ethics can accept. Also, I think it is not only because of the experimental procedure but also the recklessness of the researchers and governments. To sum up, death of millions of people is not something that our commission and also the world can appreciate and accept. All men are created biologically and ethically equal, so no one deserves this suicide even it is for science or whatever.
Bioethics Commission representative evaluates the topic in the aspects of both science and ethics and consider the equality of all human kinds. Back to our question at the beginning: “How can we decide it is ethical or not to sacrifice lots of people in order to perform science researches?” In any case it would be very easy to follow a book that will tell us moral principles and core values. People use great religion books to make their lives easier. Let’s approach to our case with the guidance of religion books. It says killing people is wrong. But it doesn’t say that killing people to develop science is wrong. So we still have to decide something. Here we see that we have to take initiatives to judge our case ethically.
TOK Presentation References
Lagemaat Richard van de, 2011, Cambridge University Press, Theory of Knowledge fort he IB Diploma