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Germany’s new COVID-19 measures don’t violate the Nuremberg Code

December 3, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Germany’s new restrictions for people who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine, and a potential vaccine mandate for all, violate the Nuremberg Code.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The Nuremberg Code, a set of ethical research principles created after World War II in response to atrocities committed by Nazi scientists, concern research involving human subjects, not public health interventions.

THE FACTS: German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on Thursday that unvaccinated people in Germany will be barred from nonessential stores, restaurants, and sports and cultural venues, as COVID cases rise across the country. German lawmakers will also consider imposing a vaccine mandate for all.

Following the announcement, claims quickly spread on Twitter that one or both of the measures violated the Nuremberg Code.

One tweet, which was posted on Thursday morning and refers to the restrictions for unvaccinated people, states, “Germany returning to its Nazi roots and doing away with the Nuremberg code.”

“Forced inoculations in violation of the Nuremberg code and a creepy parade to celebrate it. Germany never changes,” read another tweet in response to a news article about a military parade in Merkel’s honor.

But Germany’s new COVID-19 measures don’t violate the Nuremberg Code, legal and medical ethics experts told The Associated Press.

The code was designed to protect people from involuntary experiments and abuse. In contrast, Germany’s new restrictions on movement for unvaccinated people is a public health intervention, not an experiment on humans. And the COVID-19 vaccines have already undergone clinical trials and aren’t, at this stage, experimental.

“The Nuremberg Code was put in place to protect people from being forced to participate in experiments. None of these measures qualify,” Dorit Reiss, a law professor at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, told the AP. “None of this is forcing people to participate in experiments.”

Holly Fernandez Lynch, an assistant professor of medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania, also described the claims as “completely inaccurate.”

The Nuremberg Code stems from a military tribunal that took place in Nuremberg, Germany, at the end of World War II, in which German Nazi officials were tried for various crimes. Physicians who conducted harrowing experiments on inmates in Nazi concentration camps were among those prosecuted during the trials. In 1947, the Nuremberg Code was drafted in response to the scientists’ crimes and has been highly influential in medical ethics ever since.

“It is a code of ethics for conducting human experiments,” said Michelle M. Mello, a professor of law and medicine at Stanford University. “The whole nature of mandates and movement restrictions based on vaccinations is because they said, ‘We’re done with the experiments, we’ve done clinical vaccine trials, we’re implementing policies based on it.’”

Critics of vaccine mandates in the U.S. have made the same inaccurate claim that the measures violate the Nuremberg Code. Last October, the AP reported that an attorney representing plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to stop an Oregon state mandate for school and healthcare workers argued that the policy violated the code. The federal judge disagreed, and denied their bid to immediately halt the mandate.

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.