Tel Aviv University Needs to Erase the Sackler Name From Its Building

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The Sackler family’s name being removed from a wall at Tuft University’s biomedical campus, in 2019.
The Sackler family’s name being removed from a wall at Tuft University’s biomedical campus, in 2019. Credit: David L. Ryan / Boston Globe via Getty Images

“First, do no harm” – this is the edict medical students all over the world are taught. This ethical principle is the complete opposite of what the name Sackler represents, the name displayed prominently on the building of Tel Aviv University’s faculty of medicine.

The Sackler family, the owner and director of Purdue Pharma, is the manufacturer of the drug Oxycontin, and is responsible for one of the biggest health disasters of recent decades: the opioid epidemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have died of painkiller addiction in the United States alone, and the lives of millions worldwide have been destroyed.

In recent years, following many revelations in the media and legal action, the severity of the family’s actions has come to light. The company concealed information, slanted research and bribed doctors to aggressively and misleadingly promote its painkiller OxyContin. This caused hundreds of thousands of people to fall into a life of addiction and led many to use street drugs.

Two important judicial rulings were made recently: In one of them, the company admitted to three criminal charges and in another, it agreed to forego control of the company and pay $4.5 billion in compensation. In the U.S. and around the world, the name Sackler has become synonymous with unbridled greed. The family’s name has been removed from major cultural institutions to which it had donated money in its extensive philanthropic enterprise, including the Louvre, Guggenheim and Tate museums.

Nevertheless, the leadership of Tel Aviv University refuses to remove the name from the faculty of medicine building, and has reiterated that it is waiting for additional judicial decisions on the matter. More pressure has been exerted on the university recently, and in addition to queries by journalists, 27 staff members across different faculties have signed a letter asking that the name be removed. They have received no invitation to discuss the matter with the institution’s leadership, and were rebuffed with a statement that the university is waiting for an “authorized decision” by the courts.

Last week the Israel Medical Association’s ethics bureau also asked the university to consider removing the Sackler name from the faculty of medicine. The university has entrenched itself and has not even shared its reasoning or misgivings, if it has any.

Philanthropy is not necessarily a clean business; big money is sometimes donated to ease a conscience and improve the public image of a wealthy donor. But in this case, where the name Sackler is attached to a school that educates and trains physicians, it puts a real blot on Tel Aviv University and the academic world in Israel at large. Tel Aviv University should change the name of its medicine faculty immediately.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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