From 1974, the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation stipulate that a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded posthumously, unless death has occurred after the announcement of the Nobel Prize.
Before 1974, the Nobel Prize has only been awarded posthumously twice: to Dag Hammarskjöld (Nobel Peace Prize 1961) and Erik Axel Karlfeldt (Nobel Prize in Literature 1931).
As announced earlier, Ralph Steinman – one of this year’s three Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine – died on September 30.
This information reached the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet via the president of Rockefeller University, where Steinman worked, at 14.30 CET on October 3, 2011. Earlier the same day, at 11.30 CET, the Nobel Assembly had announced the 2011 Nobel Laureates in Physiology or Medicine without knowing of Ralph Steinman’s death.
The events that have occurred are unique and, to the best of our knowledge, are unprecedented in the history of the Nobel Prize. In light of this, the Board of the Nobel Foundation has held a meeting this afternoon.
According to the statutes of the Nobel Foundation, work produced by a person since deceased shall not be given an award. However, the statutes specify that if a person has been awarded a prize and has died before receiving it, the prize may be presented.
Giving due consideration to the second interpretation of the purpose of this rule, Ralph Steinman shall be awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, said the Nobel Prize panel.
The purpose of the above-mentioned rule is to make it clear that the Nobel Prize shall not deliberately be awarded posthumously. However, the decision to award the Nobel Prize to Ralph Steinman was made in good faith, based on the assumption that the Nobel Laureate was alive. This was true – though not at the time of the decision – only a day or so previously.
“The Nobel Foundation thus believes that what has occurred is more reminiscent of the example in the statutes concerning a person who has been named as a Nobel Laureate and has died before the actual Nobel Prize Award Ceremony,” said the statement.
The decision made by the Nobel Assembly at Karolinska Institutet thus remains unchanged.