Medical Ethics and Abuses in Clinical Research. Cases and Debates from the Early 20th Century to the Birth of Bioethics

Variant title

Etica medica e abusi nella ricerca clinica. Casi e dibattiti dal primo novecento alla nascita della bioetica


In this study we reconstruct some of the most sensational cases of abuse in the field of clinical trials on humans that occurred in the twentieth century, as well as the debates that preceded and followed them. Furthermore, we emphasize the role that these cases had in stimulating the birth and institutionalization of bioethics as a discipline, in the seventies of the twentieth century. The specificity of bioethics with respect to traditional medical ethics – that is, the code of ethics that doctors have autonomously given themselves – is that it includes a look from the outside by professionals trained in other disciplinary fields, such as philosophy, law, theology or sociology. Evidently, in the twentieth century, a growing number of scholars became convinced of the insufficiency of self-regulation on the part of medical professionals and considered it appropriate to evaluate the work of doctors, nurses, scientific researchers and pharmaceutical companies from an ethical point of view.

Article history

Received 14 November 2021. Revised 15 December 2021. Accepted 08 January 2022. Published online 24 January 2022




Italian (it)


Riccardo CampaJagiellonian University in Krakow


Orbis Idearum Volume 9, Issue 2 (2021), 125-158
On the History of Bioethical Ideas