Doctors experimented illegally on hundreds of elderly patients
Health Ministry slams 'disgraceful' acts at Kaplan and Harzfeld hospitals; panel finds evidence of cover-up.
Doctors at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot and Harzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera have carried out dozens of illegal experiments on hundreds of patients in their 90s and older, a Health Ministry inquiry committee has recently found. The initial, unofficial results of the inquiry are being published here for the first time.
The committee headed by Prof. Jacques Michel, a former director of Hadassah University Hospital, Mt. Scopus also found that the hospitals, which are under the joint management of Dr. Yossi Barel and Dr. Shmuel Levy, were intentionally and systematically trying to cover up the experimentation and that they had falsified files and documents handed over to the ministry.
In addition, the hospitals were found to be paying hundreds of thousands of shekels to fund some of the illegal experiments, with the tacit compliance of some senior hospital officials.
A doctor close to the investigation told Haaretz that the findings were among the most serious ever discovered in the Israeli public health system, and that the report had turned up "terrible things that it is impossible to live with and that are in complete opposition to the ethical commitments of doctors and health institutions."
The Health Ministry inquiry relies in part on the testimony of Dr. Avner Shahar, who worked at Harzfeld between 1996 and 2003 and now serves as the geriatric specialist for the ministry's southern district. Shahar says he was pushed out of his job after he began complaining about the practices at Harzfeld, including "numberless" experiments conducted inappropriately and without the consent of dozens of patients, including patients who did not have the mental capacity to provide informed consent.
The final report, which will apparently be submitted to Health Ministry administrators in the next two weeks, is expected to recommend that the findings be handed over to the attorney general and the state comptroller, as well as to the police so they can open a criminal investigation. The initial findings of the inquiry were recently presented to the Health Ministry's director general and other top ministry officials.
The ministry report comes more than a year after accusations of illegal human experiments were first publicized, in a March 2005 Haaretz article. In May of that year, the state comptroller released a report concluding that illegal human experiments at Kaplan and Harzfeld had led to the death of elderly patients.
The Health Ministry committee has revealed failures in the conduct of hospital management that are unprecedented in their severity. Haaretz has discovered that the committee will likely want to take action against Barel, director of Kaplan-Harzfeld, and deputy director Levy, who is responsible for Harzfeld. The committee is expected to determine that Barel and Levy have exhibited conduct unbecoming to a doctor and hospital director.
"If the hospital administration had bothered to do its job and investigate the experiments affair as it should have even after the 2005 state comptroller's report it could have discovered for itself, quite easily, the terrible norms of carrying out experiments on old people," said a senior official close to the investigation.
The inquiry also found serious flaws in the Kaplan-Harzfeld Helsinki committee for the approval of human experimentation, headed by Prof. Abraham Eliraz. According to the inquiry, the Helsinki committee acted in a "disgraceful" way, allowing senior doctors to carry out experiments that should not have been approved, instead of demanding changes in the experiments in an effort to prevent or minimize potential harm to the patients.
The inquiry committee is expected to make the unprecedented recommendation that the Kaplan-Harzfeld Helsinki committee be dissolved and that new members be appointed. The new members will be required to undergo extensive instruction. Until a new committee is selected, the inquiry panel is expected to recommend that an external committee supervise any experimentation at the hospitals.
The inquiry also found that doctors and top hospital administrators participated in coordinating their testimony and covering up the experimentation and that they also participated, actively and passively, in threatening several doctors who wanted to tell the truth about the illegal experiments or did not want to take part in carrying them out.
The Health Ministry committee is also expected to criticize several doctors involved in the affair, including Dr. Nadya Kagansky. The panel is expected to determine that her conduct was unbecoming a doctor and request that she not be allowed to receive an academic appointment.