Body of evidence
The stormy and tragic affair of the circumstances surrounding the death and the autopsies of IDF soldier Daniel Hiller became even more turbulent this week, with the eye of the storm focusing again on the man who has already become an almost demonic symbol: Prof. Yehuda Hiss, chief pathologist at Abu Kabir.
The stormy and tragic affair of the circumstances surrounding the death and the autopsies of Israel Defense Forces soldier Daniel Hiller became even more turbulent this week, with the eye of the storm focusing again on the man who has already become an almost demonic symbol: Prof. Yehuda Hiss, chief pathologist at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir.
This is a difficult and complicated matter, with some details still shrouded in controversy even among the experts. The manner in which this affair rolls off everyone's tongue, however, is reminiscent of grisly horror films. Were the organs removed from Hiller's body? Was his body sewn up? Did the IDF and the Health Ministry conceal details of the affair from Hiller's family?
These questions are only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath them lurk even more troubling questions that first surfaced in the Yedioth Ahronoth investigation two years ago, and became even more apparent in the Segelson Commission.
Is the institute using organs without the family's consent? Were the organs removed crudely, as portrayed in the investigation (including the replacement of bones with broomsticks)? Do power struggles in the forensic medicine system in particular and in the health system in general adversely affect the functioning of the surgeons? Did Hiss actually testify to the police regarding an autopsy that he did not perform, claiming that he had performed it? The questions are endless.
This affair is also not the only iceberg. There is another one, whose tip became visible in the 1999 affair of the two naval commandos, Raz Tebi and Guy Golan, some of whose family members sued the IDF on the grounds that some of their sons' body parts had been switched during burial. At that time Hiss responded that the military rabbinate was whitewashing the incident while he, the chief pathologist, had not been given the proper chance to perform a professional examination of the bodies.
That affair raised weighty questions, including the military rabbinate's role in concealing information from the parents and the effect of the tension between the IDF and chief pathologist on the fulfillment of their respective duties.
To these can be added the accusations leveled from time to time at the chief pathologist and at the Medical Corps, that they are opening bodies and removing organs without the families' consent. Although it has been explained that autopsies must be done for the sake of saving lives, this has not convinced the critics, some of whom have demanded that Hiss be fired.
The common thread in all the cases is a mixture of information, most of which is fragmented and laden with graphic details and confusing contradictions. The issue concerns a small group of bereaved families who find it difficult to absorb the forensic complications on top of the loss of their loved ones, exposing them to the most horrifying aspect of death. Even so, only a few people beyond the forensic system itself are capable of comprehending the difficulties, the constraints and the conditions under which this system works.
One can only imagine that even if all the pathologists were angels, the atmosphere beside the autopsy table bearing a corpse that has been two years dead would not gladden the heart of any peace-loving passerby.
This, apparently, is the soft underbelly of the story: the greater the onslaught against Hiss and forensic medicine in general, the harder it is to shake off the worrisome feeling that the public, the establishment and no less the press have found a scapegoat on which to heap all the fear and frustration that have been accumulating here in recent years.
Since the large-scale terror attacks of 1996, death has been present in our lives in its most terrifying and draining forms. The blood and the torn flesh, Zaka personnel collecting pieces of skin in black bags and the living testimonies, so raw, from the mouths of onlookers who have not yet digested what they have witnessed - all these have been packed into our consciousness.
The bereavement, the sorrow and the pain have given way to the obsessive involvement with body parts. The fear of loss has given way to the desperate clinging to internal organs. Respect for life has fled in the face of preoccupation with the intactness of tissues. In recent years a mixture of ignorance, superstition and a mystical connection to religion has given rise to a panicked objection to everything connected with organ donations and autopsies.
In light of these forces, the rabbis who know that Judaism is not so benighted are silent and the medical establishment prefers not to wage complex struggles. The public is thus denied education and essential information, and the hysteria surrounding forensic medicine intensifies.
It is difficult to judge parents who are suffering, but society must set up clear moral boundaries. If Hiss gave false testimony and if the forensic institute violated the law requiring parental consent, he and the institute must be made accountable to the full extent of the law. A reasonable law must also be drafted, that will contribute to the saving of human lives and the advancement of medicine without ignoring the sensitivities of the family.
How noble and dignified was Yardena Tebi in her request that since her son Raz and Guy Golan had fought together and died together, they should now be allowed to rest in peace. How miserable and inhumane is the propensity, which is gaining popularity, to focus more on the kidneys and liver of the dead while forgetting the memory of his spirit.