In recent months the State Comptroller, police investigations and investigative journalists have uncovered very grave information in an extremely sensitive medical realm: clinical trials on human subjects. The findings include long-term shortcomings by the Health Ministry in the supervision of the hundreds of experiments that are conducted at the hospitals and involve thousands of people every year.

Some of the experiments and studies that have been approved concerning infants and children, the mentally ill, the elderly and pregnant women were undertaken illegally, because in some cases patients participated either without their knowledge or with their agreement obtained in improper ways; there were even patients who died in the course of experiments.

Not only did those who were supposed to supervise the experiments not do their job; in some cases, they themselves were also partners to conducting the experiments. This involved senior administrators and doctors at the hospitals, who were appointed by the hospital administrations, together with the Health Ministry, to head the committees that approve experiments on humans (Helsinki committees). These committees are supposed to act in accordance with Health Ministry regulations under the World Medical Association Declaration of Helsinki: Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects, which was signed in the 1960s in the wake of medical experiments on human subjects that were conducted by the Nazis.

The State Comptroller's Report on the shortcomings of the Health Ministry was made public in May, but its findings had already been sent to the Health Ministry in February. The report notes that although "the matter of medical experiments is particularly sensitive and touches upon human lives, the Health Ministry's supervision of their implementation and the procedures for approving them has been extremely limited."

The report also states that there was hardly any supervision of the way the Helsinki committees oversee the experiments, and that "the rights of the participants in the experiments were not always maintained." The Comptroller determined that the ministry must implement fundamental changes to ensure that the experiments are carried out according to the established rules.

And indeed, it could have been expected that in response, the ministry's management would have immediately addressed itself to changing the slack behavior in this area. It could have been hoped that it would exercise all of its authority to warn and punish, first and foremost, the doctors who head the Helsinki committees, but also the senior hospital administrators, department heads and senior doctors who approved or conducted experiments in an illegal manner.

In particular, the Health Ministry's senior officials should have taken action regarding top people in the ministry's infrastructures and technologies administration, who are responsible for experiments on human subjects and have long failed at their task. However, the Health Ministry administration has emerged yet again during this past month as making do with few and insignificant steps, which apparently were taken only in order to look as though something was being done: the hospitals were required to draw conclusions from the shortcomings, and a new bulletin was issued that requires them to establish committees to supervise the experiments. More committees ...

Only in one of the dozens of serious cases that are detailed in the State Comptroller's Report has the ministry given the findings to the police and set up its own investigation committee. This involves suspicions about experiments that were conducted on elderly people over the age of 90 at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot and Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera, during the course of which three women died.

In another case, the ministry filed a complaint with the police in January, after Beilinson Hospital had complained to the ministry about the fabrication of an experiment and an article by the head of the committee on experiments on human subjects.

The Health Ministry has preferred to dodge dealing with most of the State Comptroller's findings in any real way. These findings concern committees that undertook no supervision of the conduct of the experiments; hospitals that did not investigate or report cases of death during the course of an experiment and other untoward incidents and senior doctors who involved many patients (including children and pregnant women) in studies and experiments without obtaining their agreement, or without informing them of the risks.

In all these cases, the ministry has not taken action against or dismissed the members of the Helsinki committees and those directly responsible for the shortcomings.