News

Israeli doctors are arrested in investigation

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.333.7573.823-a (Published 19 October 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:823
  1. Judy Siegel-Itzkovich
  1. Jerusalem

    Four doctors at the Kaplan Medical Centre-Harzfeld Geriatric Hospital south of Tel Aviv were arrested and brought before the Tel Aviv magistrates' court on Monday 9 October. The arrests were made as part of an ongoing investigation by the national fraud squad into alleged illegal medical experiments they conducted between 2000 and 2003 on elderly patients, some of whom were in their 90s and had dementia.

    Three of the four doctors have been named. They are Shmuel Levi, former director of Harzfeld Hospital and former deputy director of Kaplan Hospital in Rehovot under whose aegis Harzfeld operates; Alona Smirnov, formerly a junior doctor at Harzfeld; and Nadia Kagansky, who is still a senior doctor and director of a department at Harzfeld. The three named doctors were under house arrest until 19 October.

    Detectives searched the suspects' homes and seized numerous documents relating to the investigation, which was launched after the police received a complaint from the health ministry.

    The ministry looked into the matter in May 2005 after Israel's then state comptroller, the retired supreme court justice Eliezer Goldberg, published a chapter in his six monthly report that lambasted ministry officials for negligence in supervising medical experimentation (BMJ 2005;330: 1170).

    The state comptroller also criticised the ministry for taking eight years to produce a government bill for regulation of clinical trials, which only now is in the final stages of preparation and due to be presented before the Knesset (parliament) in its autumn session.

    Shlomo Breznitz, a Knesset member and clinical psychologist, recently tabled his own bill to establish ongoing supervision of doctors after permission is granted under the terms of the 1964 Declaration of Helsinki concerning informed consent. The system, he said, must be changed, because once permission is granted researchers may do as they wish. “I know the loopholes,” he said. “This very complicated and comprehensive bill would fix many of the current problems with human experiments.”

    The Israel Medical Association recently called for major legislation to regulate clinical research and to require all medical students and researchers to undergo courses in good clinical practice. The chairman of the association's ethics bureau, Avinoam Reches, said that although there is a law regulating animal experimentation, no equivalent law exists governing clinical trials, only a hotchpotch of state regulations.

    Zev Rothstein, director of Israel's largest hospital, the Sheba Medical Centre near Tel Aviv, said that inefficiency in the ministry's approval process forced Israeli biotechnology companies to “export” their research to Europe and the United States and discouraged international drug companies from commissioning research from Israel's best researchers.

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