Pfizer Nigeria Trovan Case

Pfizer Nigeria Trovan Case

Pfizer Nigeria Trovan Case

Re: the Legality of Pfizer’s procedures to trial & administer a new drug without consent that resulted in deaths & severe injury of children


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Facts of the Case

aka: Rabi Abdullahi, et al. v. Pfizer, Inc., 562 F.3d (2d Cir. 2009)

  • Argued: July 12, 2007
  • Location: New York
  • Court: U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals – Southern District of New York
  • Citations #: 562 F.3d 163
  • Docket #: 05-4863
  • Plaintiff: Rabi Abdullahi, et al
  • Defendant: Pfizer
  • Trial Type:
  • Judges: Pooler, B.D. Parker & Wesley
  • Status: End
  • Verdict: For the Plaintiff
  • Decided: Jan 30, 2009



The case involved Pfizer which conducted an unapproved, trial of its experimental antibiotic, Trovan on children in Nigeria. (1)

Plaintiffs-Appellants Rabi Abdullahi and other Nigerian children and their guardians sued Defendant-Appellee Pfizer, Inc. under the ATS (“the Abdullahi action”).

They alleged that Pfizer violated a customary international law norm prohibiting involuntary medical experimentation on humans when it tested an experimental antibiotic on children in Nigeria, including themselves, without their consent or knowledge. Plaintiffs-Appellants Ajudu Ismaila Adamu and others, also children and their guardians who were part of Pfizer’s Nigerian drug experiment, brought a similar action against Pfizer, alleging violations of the ATS, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (“CUTPA”), and the Connecticut Products Liability Act (“CPLA”) (“the Adamu action”) (2)

The appellants allege that at that time, Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical corporation, sought to gain the approval of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) for the use on children of its new antibiotic, Trovafloxacin Mesylate, marketed as “Trovan.” They contend that in April 1996, Pfizer, dispatched three of its American physicians to work with four Nigerian doctors to experiment with Trovan on children who were patients in Nigeria’s Infectious Disease Hospital (“IDH”) in Kano, Nigeria. Working in concert with Nigerian government officials, the team allegedly recruited two hundred sick children who sought treatment at the IDH and gave half of the children Trovan and the other half Ceftriaxone, an FDA-approved antibiotic the safety and efficacy of which was well-established. Appellants contend that Pfizer knew that Trovan had never previously been tested on children in the form being used and that animal tests showed that Trovan had life-threatening side effects, including joint disease, abnormal cartilage growth, liver damage, and a degenerative bone condition. Pfizer purportedly gave the children who were in the Ceftriaxone control group a deliberately low dose in order to misrepresent the effectiveness of Trovan in relation to Ceftriaxone. After approximately two weeks, Pfizer allegedly concluded the experiment and left without administering follow-up care. According to the appellants, the tests caused the deaths of eleven children, five of whom had taken Trovan and six of whom had taken the lowered dose of Ceftriaxone, and left many others blind, deaf, paralyzed, or brain-damaged. (2)

Appellants claim that Pfizer, working in partnership with the Nigerian government, failed to secure the informed consent of either the children or their guardians and specifically failed to disclose or explain the experimental nature of the study or the serious risks involved. Although the treatment protocol required the researchers to offer or read the subjects documents requesting and facilitating their informed consent, this was allegedly not done in *170 either English or the subjects’ native language of Hausa. The appellants also contend that Pfizer deviated from its treatment protocol by not alerting the children or their guardians to the side effects of Trovan or other risks of the experiment, not providing them with the option of choosing alternative treatment, and not informing them that the non-governmental organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) was providing a conventional and effective treatment for bacterial meningitis, free of charge, at the same site.[2] (2)

The appellants allege that, in an effort to rapidly secure FDA approval, Pfizer hastily assembled its test protocol at its research headquarters in Groton, Connecticut, and requested and received permission to proceed from the Nigerian government in March 1996. At the time, Pfizer also claimed to have secured approval from an IDH ethics committee. Appellants allege, however, that the March 1996 approval letter was backdated by Nigerian officials working at the government hospital well after the experiments had taken place and that at the time the letter was purportedly written, the IDH had no ethics committee.[3] Appellants also contend that the experiments were condemned by doctors, including one on Pfizer’s staff at the time of the Kano trial. (2)

*    *    *                   *    *    *                   *    *    *                   *    *    *                    *    *    *

In 1998, the FDA approved Trovan for use on adult patients only.

After reports of liver failure in patients who took Trovan, its use in America was eventually restricted to adult emergency care.

In 1999, the European Union banned its use.

*    *    *                   *    *    *                   *    *    *                   *    *    *                    *    *    *


Starting in 2001 several suits were taken to Nigerian courts, but without success.

Since then, a tectonic change has altered the relevant political landscape. In May 2007, the state of Kano brought criminal charges and civil claims against Pfizer, seeking over $2 billion in damages and restitution.[4] Around the same time, the federal government of Nigeria sued Pfizer and several of its employees, seeking $7 billion in damages.[5] None of these cases seek compensation for the subjects of the tests, who are the appellants before this Court. Pfizer then notified this Court that in light of these recent developments, which it believed required further consideration by the district court, it would not seek affirmance on the basis of forum non conveniens. (2)

In their twin complaints, which total 628 paragraphs, Plaintiffs make only four allegations concerning the role of the Nigerian government in the Trovan experiments:

(1) in order for the FDA to authorize the export of Trovan, “Pfizer obtained the required letter of request from the Nigerian government”; (

2) the government “arrang[ed] for Pfizer’s accommodation in Kano”;

(3) the government acted “to silence Nigerian physicians critical of [Pfizer’s] test”; and

(4) the government “assign[ed] Nigerian physicians to assist in the project.”[18] Elsewhere in their complaints, Plaintiffs note in conclusory fashion that a Nigerian doctor did not publicly object to the Trovan study because it “seemed to have the backing of the Nigerian government.” (2)



This case is significant as it challenges the legality of informed consent and the notion that the pharmaceutical company Pfizer may or may not experiment on people even in a foreign nation. It is further significant that the court cited the Nuremberg Code as: “the universally accepted norm in customary international law regarding nonconsensual medical experimentation.” (2)


Plaintiff’s Argument

The appellants ground their claims in four sources of international law that categorically forbid medical experimentation on non-consenting human subjects: (1) the Nuremberg Code, which states as its first principle that “[t]he voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential”; (2) the World Medical Association’s Declaration of Helsinki, which sets forth ethical principles to guide physicians world-wide and provides that human subjects should be volunteers and grant their informed consent to participate in research; (3) the guidelines authored by the Council for International Organizations of Medical Services (“CIOMS”), which require “the voluntary informed consent of [a] prospective subject”; and (4) Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (“ICCPR”), which provides that “no one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation.”[7] (2)

The district court found that “non-consensual medical experimentation violates the law of nations and, therefore, the laws of the United States” and cited the Nuremberg Code for support. (2)

The Defendants argued that the Nuremberg Code was relevant:

This history illustrates that from its origins with the trial of the Nazi doctors at Nuremburg through its evolution in international conventions, agreements, declarations, and domestic laws and regulations, the norm prohibiting nonconsensual medical experimentation on human subjects has become firmly embedded and has secured *184 universal acceptance in the community of nations. Unlike our dissenting colleague’s customary international law analysis, which essentially rests on the mistaken assumption that ratified international treaties are the only valid sources of customary international law for ATS purposes, see Dissent at 200-02, we reach this conclusion as a result of our review of the multiplicity of sources—including international conventions, whether general or particular, and international custom as identified through international agreements, declarations and a consistent pattern of action by national law-making authorities—that our precedent requires us to examine for the purpose of determining the existence of a norm of customary international law. Our dissenting colleague’s reasoning fails to engage the incompatibility of nonconsensual human testing with key sources of customary international law identified in Article 38 of the ICJ’s statute, most importantly international custom, as evidence of a general practice accepted as law, as well as the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations. See supra pp. 174-75. (2)


Defendant’s Argument

…More information is needed…


Related Previous Cases

The ruling cites the Nuremberg Code as an important precedent for the following reasons:

In August 1947, Military Tribunal 1, staffed by American judges and prosecutors and conducted under American procedural rules, see George J. Annas, The Nuremberg Code in U.S. Courts: Ethics versus Expediency, in The Nazi Doctors and the Nuremberg Code 201, 201 (George J. Annas & Michael A. Grodin eds., 1992), promulgated the Nuremberg Code as part of the tribunal’s final judgment against fifteen doctors who were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity for conducting medical experiments without the subjects’ consent, Brandt, 2 Nuremberg Trials, at 181-82. Among the nonconsensual experiments that the tribunal cited as a basis for their convictions were the testing of drugs for immunization against malaria, epidemic jaundice, typhus, smallpox and cholera. Id. at 175-178. Seven of the convicted doctors were sentenced to death and the remaining eight were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. Id. at 298-300. The tribunal emphasized that (2)

[i]n every single instance appearing in the record, subjects were used who did not consent to the experiments; indeed, as to some of the experiments, it is not even contended by the defendants that the subjects occupied the status of volunteers. (2)

Id. at 183. The judgment concluded that “[m]anifestly human experiments under such conditions are contrary to the principles of the law of nations as they result from usages established among civilized *179 peoples, from the laws of humanity, and from the dictates of public conscience.” Id. (emphasis added and internal quotation marks omitted). The Code created as part of the tribunal’s judgment therefore emphasized as its first principle that “[t]he voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential.” Id. at 181. (2)

The American tribunal’s conclusion that action that contravened the Code’s first principle constituted a crime against humanity is a lucid indication of the international legal significance of the prohibition on nonconsensual medical experimentation. As Justices of the Supreme Court have recognized, “[t]he medical trials at Nuremberg in 1947 deeply impressed upon the world that experimentation with unknowing human subjects is morally and legally unacceptable.United States v. Stanley, 483 U.S. 669, 687, 107 S. Ct. 3054, 97 L. Ed. 2d 550 (1987) (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (emphasis added); see also id. at 709-10, 107 S. Ct. 3054 (O’Connor, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part). (2)

Moreover, both the legal principles articulated in the trials’ authorizing documents and their application in judgments at Nuremberg occupy a position of special importance in the development of bedrock norms of international law. United States courts examining the Nuremberg judgments have recognized that “[t]he universal and fundamental rights of human beings identified by Nuremberg—rights against genocide, enslavement, and other inhumane acts …—are the direct ancestors of the universal and fundamental norms recognized as jus cogens,” from which no derogation is permitted, irrespective of the consent or practice of a given State. Siderman de Blake v. Republic of Arg., 965 F.2d 699, 715 (9th Cir.1992) (cited in Sampson v. F.R.G., 250 F.3d 1145, 1150 (7th Cir.2001)). As Telford Taylor, who first served as an assistant to Justice Robert Jackson during his time as Chief Prosecutor for the IMT and then became Chief of Counsel for War Crimes on the Nuremberg trials held under the authority of Control Council Law No. 10, explained, “Nuremberg was based on enduring [legal] principles and not on temporary political expedients, and this fundamental point is apparent from the reaffirmation of the Nuernberg principles in Control Council Law No. 10, and their application and refinement in the 12 judgments rendered under that law during the 3-year period, 1947 to 1949.” Taylor, Report on Nuernberg War Crimes Trials, at 107 (emphasis added). (2)


Additional international law sources support the norm’s status as customary international law.

  • The European Union embraced the norm prohibiting nonconsensual medical experimentation through a 2001 Directive passed by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union. The Directive accepted the informed consent principles of the 1996 version of the Declaration of Helsinki. Council Directive 2001/20/EC, preamble (2), 2001 O.J. (L 121) 37(EC) [hereinafter 2001 Clinical Trial Directive]. It also required member States to adopt rules protecting individuals incapable of giving informed consent and permitting clinical trials only where “the trial subject or, when the person is not able to give informed consent, his legal representative has given his written consent after being informed of the nature, significance, implications and risks of the clinical trial.Id. at art. (1), (2)(d). The Directive further required all member States to implement by 2004 domestic laws, regulations, and administrative provisions to comply with its informed consent requirements. Id. at art. 22(1). (2)
  • Since 1997, thirty-four member States of the Council of Europe have also signed the Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, a binding convention and a source of customary international law. (2)
  • In 2005, the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, which requires “the prior, free, express and informed consent of the person concerned” for research-oriented treatments. Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights, UNESCO Gen. Conf. Res., at art. 6, 33rd Sess., 33 C/Resolution 36, (Oct. 19, 2005). (2)



The court ruled to ” REVERSE the judgments of the district court and REMAND for further proceedings.”
Regarding the Nuremberg Code it said “The Nuremberg trials are unquestionably one of this country’s greatest and most enduring contributions to the field of international law.” (2)



Pfizer agreed to pay 75 million dollars in damages if the plaintiffs take DNS tests. Many refused as they did not trust Pfizer with further “medical” procedures.


Further Research

Court Documents:
In the news:
  • …More information is needed…



Pfizer’s Trovan Trial & Settlement

source: Al Jazeera English

Pfizer Criminal case adjourned until October 2015

source: AP Archive

Pfizer Criminal History

source: Odysee



  1. The Significance of the Nuremberg Code
  2. Court Ruling



Pfizer, Informed Consent, Trovan, Nigeria, Nuremberg, Court of Appeals, USA

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Warsaw Declaration

Warsaw Declaration

Warsaw Declaration

Re: The calling out of crimes against Human Rights implemented by the “New Normal” regimes





The Warsaw Declaration against the New Totalitarianism 

Warsaw, 16 November 2021

Gathered in Poland’s capital in November 2021, we issue a solemn and urgent declaration to the world. It is clear to us that mankind is now facing the greatest challenges in the course of its history. Powerful corporations, especially those operating in the digital industry, banking and pharmaceuticals have embarked upon a great reconstruction of the world, wreaking unprecedented destruction on the health, property and lives of billions of people. With the intention of expanding their influence and wealth, globalist interest groups driven by the ideology of sanitarism have initiated criminal activities aiming at creating complete global chaos and, in its wake, major social unrest, economic problems and deadly wars.  

It is widely known today that their remedy for this state of affairs is strict political and financial control over the world, orchestrated at the highest levels under the guise of health concerns, economic stability and safety. On an unparalleled scale, the globalist-controlled governments have joined the struggle against their own nations thus becoming the local taskmasters of criminal global pressure groups. Governmental authorities have largely monopolized the media and unleashed a coercive apparatus, brutally violating fundamental human rights and liberties via lies, terror and fear. The ensuing deleterious effects like excess deaths, devastation of economic activity or hampered access to health care facilities can be witnessed today. Of major concern is also the widespread invasion of patients’ privacy coupled with the breaching of doctor-patient confidentiality. At the same time, there are even more serious dangers looming on the horizon. We still do not know the long-term effects of the medical experiments imposed by pharmaceutical companies. We do not know the extent of the damage brought on by artificial restriction of economic activity and interpersonal relations. 

From Poland’s capital, which suffered the consequences of the two totalitarian systems of the 20th century, in the face of impending and unprecedented subjugation, we call all people of good will to unite and rise above divisions.  

Human life cannot be subjected to any ideology which jeopardizes personal dignity, the truth and the natural law. Thus we make an appeal to the effect that the concern for these values will determine the assessment of all the related undertakings and their consequences. 

Dignity is man’s inner, innate and natural trait irrespective of social or historical context. Therefore, no person can be treated as a puppet to be manipulated or as a means to an end – the one desired by totalitarian ideologies. The dignity of a human being is also a source of fundamental, inalienable rights such as the right to self-defense, the right to freedom and to property, the right to the truth and to work…. Subsequently, on no account can human life become subordinate to limitations, manipulation and exploitation. It also needs to be stressed that the omnipresent deceit spread not only in the media, but also in scientific communities call for a return to the truth, understood as the conformity between cognition and reality. Challenging and lengthy as the process may indeed be, no one should be exempt from the obligation to seek the objective truth. Disinformation and pseudo-science (also on a global scale) is now something that ought to inspire not only deep fear, but condemnation as well. This is because relativism inevitably leads to subjugation and totalitarianism. We also believe that it should be imperative for all legal provisions to respect natural law – that which imparts a moral dimension to all acts and serves the actual good of each human being. In turn, the norms of positive law which are contrary to the requirements of natural law are not morally binding. Unjust statutory law should be thus called into question by means of civil disobedience and even deemed to be non-binding. The right to disobey legal provisions is part of man’s legal rights with respect to the authorities.   

Just as it is our duty to resist the authorities which make use of their prerogatives, it is also necessary to combat all types of dictatorship. Not only do we protest against every instance of harassment, but also against the tyrannical and anonymous power that is today in charge of the world of finances, of the media, of police surveillance and of politics. The dignity of every person, the truth and natural law cannot fall victim to this new form of totalitarianism. Let us rally in support of our most precious human values. Let us be united, courageous and active. We can only win! 

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Warsaw, Declaration, Poland, Nuremberg

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Landmark Case 1905: Jacobson v Mass

Re: Legality of forced Vaccination


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Facts of the Case

  • Dates: Feb 20, 1905
  • Location: Massachusetts & Washington DC, USA
  • Court: US Supreme Court
  • Case #: 197 U.S. 11
  • Plaintiff: Reverend Jacobson
  • Defendant: Massachusetts & USA
  • Trial Type: US Supreme Court
  • Judge: Harlan
  • Status: End
  • Verdict: Against the Plaintiff



Jacobson was decided in 1905, when infectious diseases were the leading cause of death and public health programs were organized primarily at the state and community levels. The federal government had comparatively little involvement in health matters, other than preventing ships from bringing diseases such as yellow fever into the nation’s ports. Few weapons existed to combat epidemics. There was no Food and Drug Administration (FDA), no regulation of research, and no doctrine of informed consent. The Flexner Report was 5 years in the future, medicine would have little to offer until sulfonamides were developed in the 1930s, and most vaccines would not be available for almost half a century.  Hospitals were only beginning to take their modern form, and people who had mental illnesses were often shut away in asylums. Contraception and interracial marriage were crimes, women did not have the right to vote, and Jim Crow laws prevented African American men from exercising constitutional rights that it took the Civil War to win. (1)

A Massachusetts statute granted city boards of health the authority to require vaccination “when necessary for public health or safety.” In 1902, when smallpox surged in Cambridge, the city’s board of health issued an order pursuant to this authority that required all adults to be vaccinated to halt the disease. The statutory penalty for refusing vaccination was a monetary fine of $5 (about $100 today). There was no provision for actually forcing vaccination on any person. (1)

Henning Jacobson refused vaccination, claiming that he and his son had had bad reactions to earlier vaccinations. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found it unnecessary to worry about any possible harm from vaccination, because no one could actually be forced to be vaccinated: “If a person should deem it important that vaccination should not be performed in his case, and the authorities should think otherwise, it is not in their power to vaccinate him by force, and the worst that could happen to him under the statute would be the payment of $5.” Jacobson was fined, and he appealed to the US Supreme Court. (1)

The Supreme Court had no difficulty upholding the state’s power to grant the board of health authority to order a general vaccination program during an epidemic.  (1)



This case is significant in that many judgements in relation to the Covid Vaccination program cite this case as the reason for why the government has the authority to remove civil liberties when faced with a health crisis. It also raises many questions as to the scope of the ruling, the ethics then vs now, the science knowledge then vs now and many more issues of legality, science & ethics.


  • In Jacobson v Massachusetts, the US Supreme Court upheld the Cambridge, Mass, Board of Health’s authority to require vaccination against smallpox during a smallpox epidemic. Jacobson was one of the few Supreme Court cases before 1960 in which a citizen challenged the state’s authority to impose mandatory restrictions on personal liberty for public health purposes. (1)
  • First, it raises timeless questions about the power of state government to take specific action to protect the public’s health and the Constitution’s protection of personal liberty. What limits state power? What does constitutionally protected liberty include? Second, answers to these questions can change as scientific knowledge, social institutions, and constitutional jurisprudence progress. (1)
  • Jacobson was the rare case in which a state’s jurisdiction was not questioned—because no one claimed that the federal government should control a local smallpox epidemic. Instead, the question was whether the state had overstepped its own authority and whether the sphere of personal liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment included the right to refuse vaccination. (1)
  • Jacobson thus framed the question on the basis of two fundamental and thorny issues in U.S. Constitutional law: Federalism (where do we draw the line between the power of a state and the power of the federal government) and the Social Compact (where do we draw the line between the rights of the individual and the rights of the community). (2)


Plaintiff’s Argument

Reverend Jacobson argued that

“his liberty is invaded when the State subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination; that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health in such way as to him seems best, and that the execution of such a law against one who objects to vaccination, no matter for what reason, is nothing short of an assault upon his person.” (2)


Defendant’s Argument

Justice Harlan stated the question before the Court: “Is this statute . . . inconsistent with the liberty which the Constitution of the United States secures to every person against deprivation by the State?”(p25) Harlan confirmed that the Constitution protects individual liberty and that liberty is not “an absolute right in each person to be, in all times and in all circumstances, wholly free from restraint”: (1)

There is, of course, a sphere within which the individual may assert the supremacy of his own will and rightfully dispute the authority of any human government, especially of any free government existing under a written constitution. But it is equally true that in every well-ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.(p29) (1)

Thus, the more specific questions were whether the safety of the public justified this particular restriction and whether it was enforceable by reasonable regulations. The Court answered yes to both questions. (1)


The Court nonetheless concluded with a note of caution:

The police power of a State, whether exercised by the legislature, or by a local body acting under its authority, may be exerted in such circumstances or by regulations so arbitrary and oppressive in particular cases as to justify the interference of the courts to prevent wrong and oppression.(p38)  (1)

For example, it noted that the law should not be understood to apply to anyone who could show that vaccination would impair his health or probably cause his death. (1)



  • The decision held that a state may require healthy adults to accept an effective vaccination when an existing epidemic endangers a community’s population. As with all court decisions, what this “means” is a matter of interpretation. Jacobson may be what Sunstein called a narrow and shallow decision—narrow because it is not intended to apply to a broad range of legislation, and shallow because it does not explicitly rely on a general theory of constitutional interpretation to justify its result. People who have quite different world views or philosophies can accept the decision because it need not require the same result for different laws or in different circumstances. Not surprisingly, judges and scholars emphasize different language in the opinion to support different interpretations. (1)
  • The Court mentioned 2 justifications for the Massachusetts law. First, it found that the state may be justified in restricting individual liberty “under the pressure of great dangers” to “the safety of the general public.” The statute, by its terms, encroached on liberty only when “necessary for the public health or safety.”(p29) The smallpox epidemic proved the danger to the public. Second, by using the language of earlier decisions, the Court said that laws should not be arbitrary or oppressive. It also suggested that the state should use means that have a “real or substantial relation” to their goal.(p31) In this case, vaccination was a reasonable means to achieve the goal of controlling the epidemic. It was not an arbitrary choice; it had a real and substantial relation to preventing the spread of smallpox. (1)
  • What Jacobson said,[ii] based on the scientific, moral, and ethical understanding of vaccinations and forced medicine extant in 1905, is that the police powers of state governments include the power to delegate to municipal governments the right to mandate vaccinations where, under a balancing test, the pressure of great dangers overrides individual liberty interests, and the regulation is reasonable. (2)
  • The Court went on to acknowledge that “[t]here is, of course, a sphere within which the individual may assert the supremacy of his own will and rightfully dispute the authority of any human government, especially of any free government existing under a written constitution, to interfere with the exercise of that will.” 197 U.S. at 29. (2)



The Court was careful in its language. Therefore, it is important to understand what Jacobson does not stand for. (2)

  • First, the case does not stand for the proposition that “the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm.” To the contrary, what the case demonstrates is that a person refusing to accept a vaccine may be convicted and pay a penalty. Jacobson was never vaccinated, which was why he was convicted. (2)
  • Second, the case does not stand for the proposition that any statewide edict mandating vaccinations is valid. It instead stands for the proposition that a conviction for violating a locally promulgated ordinance mandating vaccinations under “pressure of great dangers” and under “reasonable regulations” may be upheld. Absent the pressure of great dangers or where regulations may be unreasonable, the Court specifically reserved the right to step in and strike down the law. Thus, the Court balanced the interests of the state in reasonably protecting its citizens from great danger against the individual liberty interest asserted by Jacobson, and under the circumstances presented, sided with the perceived interests of the common good against the liberty interest of the individual. (2)
  • Third, Jacobson has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the federal government has the power to mandate a national forced vaccination program. Indeed, the case upheld an ordinance issued on the most local of levels, that of a local Board of Health. The validity of a national forced vaccination program is another question altogether, and would be a case of first impression by the Court. (2)



  • In 1927, in Buck v Bell, the US Supreme Court upheld a Virginia law that authorized the involuntary sterilization of “feeble minded” persons in state institutions. Theories of eugenics enjoyed some medical and scientific support during the 1920s and 1930s. The Court found that the law served the public health and welfare because “mental defectives” would produce degenerate criminal offspring or imbeciles who “sap the strength of the state.”(p207) In a chilling opinion, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes concluded: (1)

Society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Jacobson v Massachusetts, 197 US 11. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.(p207) (1)

Jacobson was cited as support for the general principle that public welfare was sufficient to justify involuntary sterilization. The decision extended the police power’s reach from imposing a monetary penalty for refusing vaccination to forcing surgery on a young woman against her will and depriving her of the ability to have children. The Court did not require the state to demonstrate that sterilization was necessary and not arbitrary or oppressive. (1)

  • Jacobson also predated the horrors of medical experimentation conducted under the Nazis of which the world only became aware after WWII during the Nuremberg Trials which led to the adoption of the Nuremberg Code. Among other requirements, the Nuremberg Code[iv] demands, (2)

“The voluntary consent of the human subject is absolutely essential. This means that the person involved should have legal capacity to give consent; should be so situated as to be able to exercise free power of choice, without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, overreaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion; and should have sufficient knowledge and comprehension of the elements of the subject matter involved as to enable him to make an understanding and enlightened decision.” (2)

  • The Declaration of Helsinki by the World Medical Association in 1964 provides that human subjects “must be volunteers and informed participants in the research project.” (2)
  • In 2005, the General Conference of UNESCO adopted the Universal Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights[v] further raising the bar for the practice of ethical medicine by stating that, “Any preventive, diagnostic and therapeutic medical intervention is only to be carried out with the prior, free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information.”(2)


Further Research



The Legacy of Jacobson v Mass 1905

source: Pholosopher


source: ….






1905, Bioethics, Cambridge, Case, constitution, court, Dershowitz, Jacobson, Landmark, mandates, Massachusets, Nuremberg, Public safety, Reverend, smallpox, Supreme, USA, Vaccine

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