After the State Prosecutor's Office announced in August 2003 that it would not be serving criminal indictments against Prof. Zion Ben Rafael in the matter of the human ova, but instead would file a disciplinary complaint, Prof. Yossi Lessing, chairman of the Israeli Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, wrote to him to express disgust with the slander against Ben Rafael. Lessing also expressed his hope that Ben Rafael would return quickly to work from his compulsory leave as head of the obstetrics department at Beilinson Hospital at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva.
The disciplinary complaint against Ben Rafael, who committed himself to admitting his guilt on all eight counts, said that he collected too many ova - from dozens to hundreds - from women in his care without telling them how many ova he harvested, how many were then used for donations, the ramifications of those donations, and without documenting any of it, as required. The deliberations about the disciplinary matter are still underway.
Lessing was expressing the prevailing view in the Israeli gynecological establishment toward the entire affair from the outset: protection and backing for Ben Rafael, while ignoring the severe public and moral ramifications of the affair. That approach was also evident in the activity of the doctors' committee at Beilinson, which together with the doctors' committee from the Clalit health maintenance organization and senior Israel Medical Association officials led by Dr. Yoram Blachar, kept demanding that the HMO reinstate Ben Rafael to his position at the hospital "and to his senior position in the medical community." Even Prof. Eran Dolev, the former chairman of the IMA's ethics committee, sprang to the defense of Ben Rafael and appeared on his behalf before the committee investigating the affair.
However, there were doctors who agreed, after much effort at persuasion, to serve on the commission investigating the affair. In August 2003, the committee (Prof. Shlomo Mor Yosef, Prof. Rivka Carmi and Dr. Mordechai Halperin) held an unprecedented press conference in which they leveled sharp criticism of Ben Rafael's morality and charged he was not fit to run a department in a public hospital or serve as a gynecologist.
The committee's opinion gave Clalit HMO and Beilinson Hospital a basis for their opposition to Ben Rafael's return to a management position in the HMO. In response to the September 2003 suit Ben Rafael filed against the HMO in the Tel Aviv Labor Court, demanding his job back, Dr. Dan Oppenheim, the director of the Rabin Medical Center, filed an affidavit making "grave and serious" accusations against Ben Rafael. He said Ben Rafael has been tainted by "a grave moral and public failure that does not allow his return to any managerial position in the hospital."
Oppenheim also said that six out of eight senior doctors in maternity and obstetrics at Beilinson made the unprecedented announcement that they would leave the hospital if Ben Rafael were to return. And the HMO told the court that Ben Rafael applied "illicit pressure, and sent threatening messages" to doctors.
Nonetheless, the HMO's lawyers have been negotiating with Ben Rafael, with the agreement and backing of Dr. Oppenheim (as well as Dr. Eran Halperin, who heads the HMO's hospitals division), over the conditions for Ben Rafael's return to a hospital administrator's position at Beilinson. According to the agreement emerging from the mediation efforts, Ben Rafael will resume management of the Beilinson department for six months, and then be responsible for research and as a consultant to Beilinson's management.
So far, management at the HMO and Beilinson have refused to explain to the public what made them change their mind about not allowing Ben Rafael back into a managerial position. In his affidavit to the Labor Court, Oppenheim stated that the HMO wants all its top managerial positions filled only by people of impeccable standing. However, it's not only the Beilinson department that requires such lofty values. Dr. Oppenheim, who heads one of the country's largest and most important medical institutions, must explain the change in his position, from defender of the public interest, as he appeared in his court affidavit, to defender of the doctors.
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