The PM's Bureau as Consultants

Now that the condition of Ariel Sharon's health has become a family matter, there is room to examine the reliability of the information provided to the public about his illness.

Now that the condition of Ariel Sharon's health has become a family matter, there is room to examine the reliability of the information provided to the public about his illness - the extent to which the mistaken impression about his condition stems from deliberate deception or from errors in judgment, and the extent to which the doctors' reports were made independently.

The night of Sharon's first hospitalization - December 18, 2005 - Dr. Yuval Weiss, the deputy director of Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem, read the official announcement about Sharon's condition, after coordinating it with the Prime Minister's Bureau. From the moment Sharon was rushed to the emergency room, the hospital felt that it was shouldering great responsibility in the wording of its public announcements. From the perspective of the institution, the first medical announcement, ("Sharon underwent a mild cerebral event"), reflected precisely the prime minister's condition, even though bureau officials proofread it.

So, too, with the announcements the hospital made upon his release: "Apparently, the cerebral event has passed and will leave no damage or remnant" (Prof. Tamir Ben-Hur, head of the neurology department). "He is in a normal state of health, but he will need to be monitored in the upcoming period of time" (Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, hospital director).

On December 23, the daily Yedioth Ahronoth published an interview with Sharon's two personal physicians, Prof. Bolislav Goldman and Dr. Shlomo Segev, who described his health as totally normal,presenting lab tests on Sharon conducted the month before, which showed normal results. The information was publicized with Sharon's agreement. Note that this information, like the official announcements that came out of Hadassah during Sharon's first hospitalization, were released in coordination with or at the initiative of the Prime Minister's Bureau.

Three days later, Sharon's bureau convened a press conference to report details about the state of Sharon's health. The bureau decided to invite political correspondents to the briefing rather than health correspondents. Hadassah sent Ben-Hur and Prof. Chaim Lotan, who heads the Heart Institute at Hadassah. The press conference was run by Goldman, with Segev in attendance. On this occasion, the Hadassah doctors refrained from reporting that doctors had diagnosed Sharon with a disorder called cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). Ben-Hur did tell reporters that doctors had found in Sharon's brain "things that you find in most people his age, whose significance is not clear," but he did not mention the name of the disease. He also announced that the prime minister's neurological exam was normal.

Hadassah officials say in retrospect that Ben-Hur described the results of the brain scan in a precise manner: He did not say that the findings were normal, he was describing an anatomic condition that was not yet considered a disease requiring treatment or one that ought to be reported. It's not the hospital's job, say officials there, to predict whether someone with a brain in that anatomic condition will get Alzheimer's.

Ben-Hur and Lotan arrived at the press conference after attending a briefing by hospital administrators. They did not read their comments off a piece of paper, but relied on a prepared outline. The Prime Minister's Bureau was not involved in the report they made. Sharon's assistants did want the press conference to take place in his bureau, to lead it and brief the doctors ahead of time, but Hadassah refused.

The hospital agreed to send two doctors to Beit Agron after it was agreed that Goldman would lead the press conference and after the prime minister told the hospital himself that he agreed to allow the contents of his medical file to be revealed. Sharon did not place any limitations on the information to be discussed.

During Sharon's second hospitalization, the first official announcement ("significant cerebral event") came out on the authorization of officials from his bureau. Afterward, the hospital reported independently.

The overall picture, then, is one of substantial involvement of the Prime Minister's Bureau in a significant portion of the reports, in a manner that influenced the impression made by the reports on Sharon's health. His personal physicians contributed to this impression, as did Ben-Hur, in the way in which he chose to describe the findings of the MRI scan revealing brain disease. The portrait that arose from the reports did not match the state of the prime minister's health - to the surprise of all those involved.