Charges dropped against physicians over unauthorized human experiments
The State Prosecution's decision to close criminal cases relating to alleged illegal medical experiments on elderly patients at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot and Herzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera has outraged members of the medical community.
Central District Prosecutor Rachel Shiber announced the decision to close criminal cases against six physicians in the affair. Shiber stressed that "the police investigation resulted in extensive evidence that pointed to grave acts." However, she said that "there is a disagreement between experts as to the medical conduct and its implications, and we concluded that we lack the grounds for criminal proceedings."
The files have been sent to the Health Ministry with a recommendation by the State Prosecution that the six physicians face a disciplinary panel. The medical community is outraged by the decision, and the families of the victims of the experiments are considering filing a petition against the decision.
Professor Jacques Michel, who headed the confidential oversight committee that looked into the matter at the Health Ministry, and who heads the Helsinki Commission which approves clinical experiments at Hadassah Hospital, noted that "the way experiments are carried out on human being reflects to a great extent the sort of society we live in. In Israel, legislation on experiments on humans is outdated, and includes the international convention from 1975, while in practice there have been five updates to it."
A bill for new legislation that would govern testing on humans has been stuck at the Health Ministry in recent months.
The experiments at Kaplan and Herzfeld were exposed in articles in Haaretz and the television program Uvda. A 2005 State Comptroller's report describes serious cases of experiments being carried out at Kaplan, in which elderly patients suffering from cognitive problems participated in experiments without understanding the purpose of the experiment, and without filing a request with their guardian. Some signed on for the experiments by using a fingerprint.
In one experiment at Kaplan, which took place in April 2003, an invasive procedure was carried out on elderly patients in order to take urine samples, because doctors suspected they had a serious infectious disease. One of the women being examined died four days after the procedure.
Ten months later, another female patient taking part in the infection experiment was examined, and she died a month later. The woman was Beta Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor, wife of a rabbi and resident of Rehovot, who was 84 at the time of her death. A letter on her case resulted in a probe by the State Comptroller's Office.
The second experiment tested the minimum amount of iron that the elderly patients require, and a month into the experiment an elderly woman who was part of the experiment died in her home.
The oversight revealed that the then-director of Kaplan hospital, Dr. Yosef Bar-El, did not carry out an internal probe into the deaths in the two experiments, and in the case of the second experiment, documents of the research disappeared from the hospital. Consequently the Health Ministry set up a confidential committee that comprised Professor of Nephrology, Jacques Bernheim, the owners of Kaplan and Herzfeld hospitals and attorney Eyal Heko, from the Health Ministry.
They filed a highly critical report in the summer of 2006 with the management of the Health Ministry, and the ministry filed a complaint with the police. In October 2006 the Wiesel family petitioned the High Court of Justice to receive a copy of the report, and the case is ongoing. A police investigation examined allegations of criminal misconduct against 21 physicians, and in October 2006 arrested senior figures to assist in the investigation. Three years later, in August 2009, a draft indictment was prepared against six physicians.
The senior figure against whom the criminal investigation was closed is Dr. Shmuel Levy, who has since stopped practicing medicine.
Three other physicians, who continue to work at Herzfeld, are Dr. Louisa Perlman, Dr. Michael Klein and Dr. Ephraim Rimon. Two other doctors left the hospital - Dr. Nadia Kaganski and Dr. Alona Smirnov. Dr. Bar-El, who supervised Kaplan and Herzfeld hospitals, was moved to a different post at the Clalit Health Maintenance Organization.
Professor Michel says that "the committee made findings that were shocking for me, and I have no doubt that there were serious ethical violations in this affair."