Senior Cancer Doctor Convicted of Taking Bribes From Patients

A senior physician at Tel Aviv's Ichilov Hospital was convicted yesterday of five counts of taking bribes from patients and four charges of exploitation and breach of trust.

The Tel Aviv Magistrate's court ruled that Dr. Arie Figer, 61, a former deputy head of the hospital's Oncology Department, charged patients thousands of shekels to receive preferential treatment during their stays at Ichilov, part of the Sourasky Medical Center, and at Petah Tikva's Beilinson Hospital, part of the Rabin Medical Center. Some of the patients who agreed to pay Figer were invited to participate in clinical trials for expensive new medications.

Others were told to come to Figer's private clinic, where he would charge them at an average of NIS 1,000 per visit.

Figer took an unpaid leave from work when the indictment was served, in February 2007. Throughout the trial he denied all of the charges and accusations.

The first count of bribery was over an incident that began when the nephew of one of Figer's hospital patients asked him about her condition. Figer told him to come to his private clinic. In the course of the four-minute meeting, for which he charged $500, Figer told the man that his aunt's condition was hopeless and the most he could do was to try and ease her pain with morphine.

In ruling on the count Judge Rachel Greenberg said that any information about a patient's condition, especially when the condition is critical, must be given on hospital grounds.

Another count, for bribery an exploitation, concerned a patient with stomach cancer who paid Figer NIS 2,500 for access to a drug that is not subsidized by the state and requires a special permit to receive it.

Figer gave the patient samples of the drug in his possession before the permit was issued. When relatives of the patient felt that Figer was ignoring them they gave him an envelope with NIS 7,500 in cash, and he began meeting with them more often and improved the patient's care.

In a third incident, Figer offered a patient the chance to join a clinical study for a drug that cost NIS 120,000. Figer told the patient that he would get the drug for free, but charged him 10% of the estimated cost for his services and 10% more for the services of a nurse he employed for the treatment. The patient refused, leading to the conviction of Figer for bribery and exploitation.

In yet another case, Figer was convicted of charging the children of a patient whose condition deteriorated after chemotherapy treatment NIS 700 to come to his clinic to hear about her condition. Figer had previously avoided meeting them at the hospital.

"The accused didn't just breach the ethics code, but committed criminal offenses," Greenberg wrote in her verdict.

After the verdict was announced Figer thanked the medical personnel and patients who stood by him during the trial.