Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was taken back to his home on the Sycamore Farm in the Negev on Friday morning, for the first time since he fell comatose from a stroke five years ago.

The Knesset Finance Committee earlier this week approved NIS 1.6 million annual funding for Sharon's treatment. A Finance Ministry representative told the committee that this is the sum it transfers to the Health Ministry each year for that purpose.

Preparations have been made by Sharon's family over the course of this week to discharge him from the Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer.

The hospital said it would continue to assist the family by explaining what type of equipment is necessary, instructing nursing and para-professional medical staff on home treatment, and in medical aspects of the former premier's care after he goes home.

The hospital also said it had begun two years ago to discuss with the family Sharon's release to home care. The hospital management said it "welcomes the family's decision, in the belief that it is better for 'Arik who belongs to all of us' to live his life at the ranch, surrounded by his loved ones and the scenery he loved, rather than in a room at the hospital."

"There has been no improvement reported in his condition. The move is the result of modern medical thinking that prefers to see long-term patients treated in the community rather than in hospitals," said Dr. Shlomo Noi, an official from Tel Hashomer Hospital.

While Sharon showed minimal responses, there was no indication he would emerge from the coma, Noi told Israel Radio on Friday.

"Beyond that, we have only hope," he said.
 

In February 2009, the social action group Ometz approached the Health Ministry director general and the state comptroller with a request to advance the issue of Sharon's care at home.

"We became aware that there are no special medical services that Mr. Sharon is being given at the hospital, but that the family has refused the hospital's request [to take Sharon home] and the matter has been frozen," Ometz chairman Aryeh Avneri wrote.

Sheba responded to Avneri's letter by conceding that the treatment Sharon was receiving was beyond that given to an ordinary citizen, and that he was hospitalized alone in a room designed for two patients.

Sharon, 82, has been a patient in the respiratory rehabilitation unit at Sheba since late May 2006, four and a half months after being hospitalized at Hadassash University Hospital, Ein Karem following a stroke.

Sharon has since been diagnosed as being in a permanent vegetative state. His medical team is led by Dr. Arie Wollner, head of the department of respiratory rehabilitation and Dr. Genia Agranov, director of the head injury unit in the department of neurological rehabilitation. Sharon's personal physician, Dr. Bolek Goldman, is also involved in his care. A nurse is on duty at his bedside during each of three shifts a day. There are 18 patients in Sharon's unit, in 10 rooms, usually two to a room, with Sharon in a private room. Bodyguards are on duty around the clock and surveillance cameras have been installed.

When Sharon was moved to Sheba, a two-phase rehabilitation program was designed for him. First, he was to be weaned off of the respirator, and then he was to be brought back to consciousness. However, not enough progress was made in the first stage. In the early part of his hospitalization at Sheba his condition was reported to have deteriorated a number of times as a result of infections, but each time doctors managed to stabilize him.