Cures and "beneficial" things obtained through immoral and unethical means

In the current controversy involving the removal of statutes of Confederate generals and political figures, there’s an effort in Columbia, S.C. to remove the sculpture of physician J. Marion Sims. Sims lived from 1813 to 1873 and is considered to be the “father of modern gynecology” because his pioneering work in the field. His most significant contribution was the development of the vesicovaginal fistula surgical technique which effectively cured the once-common post-birth complication of obstetric fistula thereby improving the lives of many women. By itself, this would seem to be a positive but it’s what Sims did to develop this technique (and others) that is the reason why they’re trying to remove his statute from the S.C. Statehouse. Basically, it involved slaves, torture, mutilation and removal of organs without anesthesia, and other things that would’ve not been out place in Dr. Mengele’s guidebook nearly 100 years later.

I don’t have a problem with the removal of Sims’ bust from the Statehouse but that’s not what this thread is about. My question involves the vesicovaginal fistula surgery technique and other scientific and medical benefits produced through clearly immoral means. Is it possible for people in good conscience to avail themselves of these cures? Let’s discuss.

well we can go further … shall we forget all our space program because von braun built the v rockets ? but his defense was he was amoral about the war he just wanted to build rockets …
or how cancer research started in the german/Japanese camps …

Are you asking if someone today whose health could be improved with Sims’s vesicovaginal fistula surgery should feel bad if they actively seek it? Or someone living back in Sims’s day?

Regardless, I don’t think either should feel like they are in a moral dilemma. Making use of the technique does not endorse the methods used to develop that technique.

To perhaps broaden the discussion a little, let’s say a drug company develops a cancer-fighting drug that works really well for a subset of patients, but FDA won’t approve it for market because it hasn’t undergone the required number of trials. So the drug maker sells it overseas, where it is ends up killing a bunch people for unknown reasons. Should the few patients who are helped by the drug feel bad because they benefited from a reckless drug company’s actions? I don’t think so. I think it’s unfair to expect people who are seriously sick to put their fight for social justice before their own survival.

I think this is pretty simple. People who do bad things, should never be allowed to prosper or benefit personally from their crimes. No one should be allowed to profit exclusively from the use of information derived from such horrendous acts. But no sufferer should be denied care, simply because the care they need was found by a criminal.

The harm has already been done and is in the past. What is past is past and cannot be changed. The data that was gleaned, is medically useful. Why act as if the data does not exist, as if that would somehow be honoring to the deceased victims?

Should doctors deliberately revert back to the use of obsolete, harmful medical techniques in the future, in order to avoid using the derived-from-torture vesicovaginal fistula surgical technique? That would be totally nonsensical.

You could point out to all the bunnyhuggers that refuse to use anything animal tested that in general the formularies they are working with that don’t need animal testing currently is because they already did the animal testing on the ingredients in the past … that tends to piss them off. <shrug> Even the members of PETA benefit from animal tested items cough insulin cough

The end absolutely does not justify the means. That said, to disregard the results renders the suffering of the victims completely meaningless. Take the lessons learned and also take measures to ensure the events never happen again.

I don’t think it is that simple. I mean, I don’t disagree with your last sentence, but what if the beneficial thing is not critical to life and health, but still worth having?


If Hitler had cured cancer, we agree that cancer sufferers today should still benefit from the cure.
If Hitler had invented the VW Beetle, should we scrap it as a matter of principle? Nobody actually needs it.

Slippery slope.

Should we destroy everything in Germany that came about or thrived during the Third Reich? Should Porsche, Bayer, and Hugo Boss be put out of business on just that principle? Should any building or infrastructure built in Germany from 1933-1945 be razed since it may have contributed or provided a benefit to the Nazis?

Not the issue.

Your so called bunny huggers are trying to discourage animal testing “in the future” by not using products already derived from that kind of testing.

It’s similar to not buying clothes made by child labor. The children were already brutalized but by refusing to buy the products created that way, it may discourage continued use of such labor. So it doesn’t mean its morally okay to buy the clothes already made by the children.

Big difference there.

Testing the effects of a medication on animals instead of humans is a far cry from running a sweatshop in order to increase profit.

One is done in the name of preventing harm to humans, the other is abusing humans in order to make money.

But they equate animal harm with human harm. Once you buy into that they are logically consistent with their behavior.

Yes, I would say that their insanity is congruent in that case.

The Allies broke up IG Farben after WWII for doing this so there is a precedent. However, I’m not aware of any of their scientific developments being banned because they came about as a direct result of their crimes against humanity.

"Fruit of the poisonous tree"is a legal doctrine stating evidence obtained illegally is tainted as is anything gained from it. I think the same term should be applied here for discussion purposes even though the argument involves a completely different subject matter. Basically, it all boils down to the same question, “Is it possible for a poisonous tree to produce non-poisonous fruit?” In the legal system, the answer is “no”. In science and medicine, is the answer the same?

The “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine exists to ensure the application of the rule of law - namely, that the prosecution should not benefit (i.e., gain additional evidence) from breaking the law. Under such a principle, it is perfectly good and valid to punish unethical/criminal researchers or deprive them of any patents, profits or other benefits they have gained due to their discoveries. In contrast, the scientific validity of a research study does not directly depend on the ethics of its purpose and means. If it is conclusively established that a human being will die from exposure to X, unless treated with Y in 48 hours, then that conclusion is not altered by the fact that the “human beings” involved in discovering this fact were slaves/prisoners or were otherwise coerced to participate.