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Research and complicity: the case of Julius Hallervorden
  1. Franklin G Miller
  1. Correspondence to Franklin G Miller, Department of Bioethics, National Institutes of Health, Building 10, Room 1C118, Bethesda, MD 20892-1156, USA; fmiller{at}


The charge of complicity has been raised in debates over the ethics of fetal tissue transplantation and embryonic stem cell research. However, the applicability of the concept of complicity to these types of research is neither clear nor uncontroversial. This article discusses the historical case of Julius Hallervorden, a distinguished German neuropathologist who conducted research on brains of mentally handicapped patients killed in the context of the Nazi ‘euthanasia’ programme. It is argued that this case constitutes a paradigm of complicity in research that is useful in assessing complicity in contemporary research ethics.

  • Mentally disabled persons
  • embryos and fetuses

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  • The opinions expressed are the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy of the National Institutes of Health, the Public Health Service, or the US Department of Health and Human Services.

  • Funding This research was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the Clinical Center, NIH.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.