‘LITZMAN AND ROTSTEIN are killing our children out of greed!’ say the two signs on the left during the protest at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As parents of 300 children with cancer were poised to file an appeal with the High Court of Justice against Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, the action on Sunday was called “not currently relevant” by Prof. Jonathan Halevy, director-general of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Jerusalem.
The parents are angered by Litzman’s refusal to allow the medical center to open an allogeneic pediatric bone-marrow transplant department, in which tissue is taken from genetically similar donors. SZMC already performs autologous transplants, in which processed tissue is taken from the young patients themselves, but Litzman has not allowed the opening of a facility in which bone marrow will be donated by tissue-typed donors.
The issue has come to a head due to the announcement several months ago by the six leading oncologists at Hadassah University Medical Center who treated the children, of their decision to resign because they have no faith in Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) director- general Prof. Zeev Rotstein, who was appointed by Litzman (over much opposition) more than a year ago. The doctors, headed by Prof. Michael Weintraub, who heads the Hadassah facility until June 4, said they cannot work with Rotstein, especially after he decided to unite the pediatric and adult bone-marrow transplant departments at the facility.
The doctors were even more furious when, for Purim, Rotstein issued a parody in which he compared Weintraub – a highly respected pediatric oncology specialist – to Haman, the ancient oppressor of the Jews.
A few weeks ago, three medical residents in Weintraub’s department said they resign along with the professors at the beginning of June.
Halevy has remained publicly silent over the scandal for the last six months. He has, however, worked behind the scenes to get Rotstein and the Hadassah doctors to find a solution rather than have department staffers leave their young patients and try to transfer to SZMC. “Although it sounds pompous,” he said, “I am the responsible adult calling on all the sides to climb down from the tree.”
Litzman has also been mostly silent on the dispute, but in recent weeks has called on the sides to accept a mediator in order to reach an agreement and keep the Hadassah department running. The ministry has insisted that it is “unjustified” to allow SZMC to open such a facility after its experts looked into the situation. It has kept mum when asked exactly what is missing at SZMC for doing pediatric bone-marrow transplants or how long and what it would take to be ready.
Halevy said on Kol Yisrael radio on Sunday morning that both Litzman and Rotstein had “climbed on a high tree” over the dispute and should “come down” and reach a solution.
The SZMC director-general decided to speak publicly after an advertisement by parents of the sick children showed a hollow-cheeked twoyear- old cancer patient named Mirel lying on Hadassah-Ein Kerem’s sheets and looking terrible.
He said it looked as if it was “in a scene from the Holocaust.”
The ad – which states that “instead of fighting the cancer the girl has had to battle against Litzman” – was the crossing of a red line, said Halevy, and “shocking. Under no circumstances should such a stage have been reached.”
The parents have charged that the Hadassah department has numerous pediatric oncology patients from abroad who are part of a medical tourism project to provide the facility with more income.
The “righteous people” of the story, Halevy continued, were Weintraub and the other Hadassah doctors who are totally devoted to their young patients” and have been badly treated by Rotstein, whom the SZMC director-general described as a “personal friend.”
The doctors, he said, “feel they cannot work [at Hadassah] because it violates their conscience,” but there is no alternative now. It was “irrelevant” to discuss SZMC taking all the Hadassah doctors and patients in three weeks,” Halevy added. “The doctors will not move to us in the foreseeable future, and I am not sure that they will move to us at all.”
HMO management commented in a statement that since the brouhaha began, its department has been open to children without regard to their origin, religion or place of birth. Hadassah has been “smeared” and be exposed to “lies,” the statement said.
“We have ignored them and continued to work professionally and without faults and with love.”
It charged that Weintraub resigned because he was unwilling to work under another appointee who is an expert in pediatric hematology and that he “incited” his doctors in “violent hooliganism.”