Gynecologist who stole patients' ova suspended

Judge says 'comparatively lenient' sentence reflects doctor's 'impressive' IDF service, but notes that women would naturally have been distressed by his actions.

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March 8, 2007 22:47
2 minute read.
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The Health Ministry will suspend for two and a half years the medical license of Prof. Zion Ben-Raphael, one of the country's leading gynecologists and fertility experts, for surgically removing ova from private patients and implanting them after in-vitro fertilization in other infertile women without the donors' knowledge. Six women filed complaints against Ben-Raphael, and the case, which dragged on for seven years and ended in a plea bargain, was one of the most serious involving a gynecologist in Israel. Retired Judge Vardi Zeiler, who decides such cases on behalf of the health ministry, announced the decision on Thursday, and the suspension will take effect on March 18. Ben-Raphael, 57, served as head of obstetrics and gynecology at the Rabin Medical Center-Beilinson Campus and also treated private patients at the Herzliya Medical Center. Between 1996 to 1999, he took hundreds of ova from patients undergoing fertility treatments without their permission. He produced extra eggs in some of the women by over-stimulation of their ovaries with drugs, a procedure that can dangerous. Ben-Raphael removed 232 ova from one woman without her permission and used 155 of them for in-vitro fertilization of 33 infertile women. In another case, 53 eggs were surgically removed, and 30 were used for IVF. He took 256 ova from a third patient, according to Zeiler's report, and 181 of them were used for fertility treatments in 34 women. Even when women agreed to donate extra eggs, Ben-Raphael would extract more than the agreed-upon number. In none of these cases were the egg removals recorded in medical files. In 2000, Ben-Raphael was caught paying $20,000 to have his criminal file closed. The State Attorney's Office initially said that there was "not enough evidence" to indict Ben-Raphael and offered a plea bargain. But one of the patients complained to the attorney-general about the offer, and it wasn't carried out. Later, the state reached another agreement with Ben-Raphael in which his license would be suspended for 2.5 years. The doctor was declared guilty on all charges, and on February 21, the ministry's disciplinary board presented the material to Zeiler, who eventually agreed to the sentence. The retired judge said he had been somewhat lenient because of Ben-Raphael's "impressive service" in the IDF (he was decorated after the War of Attrition) and in the medical field, as well as Ben-Raphael's "warm regard" for his patients. However, Zeiler said that even though there was no specific law prohibiting the doctor's actions, medical practitioners were strictly bound by a code of ethics, which had been blatantly violated. Zeiler added that women would naturally be distressed upon learning that there were children from their eggs who were produced without their permission. The shortage of donor ova and the Ben-Raphael case led to the ministry's preparation of a law that will soon allow women - not only those undergoing fertility treatments - to donate eggs to women who need them.

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