Israel's Supreme Court: Doctors Taking Law Into Own Hands

Dorit Beinisch speaks at High Court hearing over petition presented against August agreement between state and Israel Medical Association; around 400 residents, as well as senior doctors, have reportedly resigned.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said Thursday that medical residents who were resigning en mass in protest over pay and conditions were “taking the law into their own hands.”

Beinisch was speaking during a High Court hearing over a petition doctors presented to the High Court over the August agreement between the state and the Israel Medical Association, three days after hundreds of medical residents stopped showing up for work at hospitals around the country.

Beinisch Bagatz 17.10.11
Dudu Vaknin

“If this was a regular case, without the difficult atmosphere that has been created, this petition would be something that we would have to postpone due to lack of integrity,” Beinisch told doctors during the hearing.

The dispute follows an agreement reached in August between the Israel Medical Association and the government over a nine-year labor deal for the country's public-health physicians.

The petition, filed by Mirsham, a nonprofit group representing some of the country's residents, challenges the agreement's nine-year duration. It is the third of its kind to be presented by medical residents.

The first was filed three weeks ago by six medical residents seeking to overturn the National Labor Court's ruling last month that deemed the resignations illegal, while the second was filed this week over the residents' long hours.

Before the High Court hearing, medical residents asked Israel’s Labor Court for an extension in handing in their response to a claim submitted by the State Prosecutor’s Office, asking that the Court find them in contempt of court for violating restraining orders against their resignations. The court granted them the extension, with the deadline now set at 12 P.M. on Friday.

At Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, thirty medical students and interns went on strike on Thursday morning. According to Health Ministry figures, 345 residents had decided to resign by Thursday, while the residents themselves report the total as over 400 residents who have stopped showing up for work.

More senior doctors also joined the protest on Thursday. At Meir Hospital in Kfar Sava, 72 doctors handed in letters of resignation on Thursday morning, 18 of these being department managers.

Tel Aviv University medical students went on strike from their studies at 12 P.M. on Thursday. Doctors, medical students, and interns from Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and Sourasky Medical Center, and Assaf Harofeh Hospital in Tzrifin were also preparing to demonstrate.

Health Ministry Director General Roni Gamzu met with Rambam’s Deputy Director, Professor Shimon Reisner, on Thursday over the hospital administration’s refusal on Wednesday to immediately fire a number of senior doctors who had tendered their resignation in solidarity with protesting residents.

According to Reisner, Gamzu “understood the decision of the hospital administration in this matter,” despite Gamzu’s alleged concerns over the affect the resignations would have on the health of the patients.