This article explores the evolution of research ethics in the protection of human subjects. Included in the examination of research ethics are a brief history of twentieth-century critical incidents in human subjects research, a review of formal efforts to define the values and principles of research ethics, theoretical foundations of ethical research, and relevance to contemporary social work theory, practice, and education.

Wisdom is sold in the desolate market

Where none come to buy.

—William Blake

Germany, 1948—Rudolph Helwig sits uncomfortably in the witness chair at the trial of accused Nazi scientists in Nuremberg. He is a young man, barely into his twenties, but he wears a look of perpetual fear upon his face. Helwig is afraid right now, and ashamed. Everyone in the courtroom is watching him. The prosecutor approaches the witness stand. Helwig's eyes dart to the defendants' bench, where rows of older men sit, drowsy and unperturbed. The prosecutor asks Helwig why he had been sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp in 1943. Helwig doesn't know. He is asked if he is mentally retarded. Helwig doesn't know. One of the older men smiles. The prosecutor asks Helwig why he was chosen for Ravensbruck's sterilization experiments. This Helwig knows, “I suppose it was because I could not defend myself.”

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