Symposium debates public's right to know about leaders' health

Should leaders surrender some privacy so citizens can know whether they are able for the job?

sharon 88 (photo credit: )
sharon 88
(photo credit: )
Prime ministers must surrender some of their privacy so citizens can know whether they are properly functioning if they become ill, Prof. Avi Reches, head of medical ethics at the Jerusalem Ethics Center and head of the Israel Medical Association's ethics bureau said Sunday. Speaking at a five-hour symposium on "Truth and Lies on Leaders' Health," Reches, a senior neurologist at Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem, said that in such cases, the public's right to know outstrips national leaders' right to privacy. Reches told the standing-room-only audience of 150 that he could be objective about the controversial issue of whether Hadassah doctors gave then-prime minister Ariel Sharon the proper treatment or not, as he was not among the interdisciplinary team that treated him. But Reches said that a national leader's personal physician must not decide if he is able to function. Instead, other physicians should be drafted by a state apparatus that decides if a prime minister is capable of continuing in office. Dr. Yuval Karnieli, an academic lawyer active in the Movement for Freedom of Information, maintained that not enough medical information was provided by Hadassah after Sharon's hospitalization for his first stroke and immediately after his second one last January. "The lack of information to the public and doctors may have harmed the quality of treatment Sharon was given, and the law must be changed to require leaders to supply medical information," he said. Hadassah Medical Organization director-general Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, who was the main provider of information about Sharon's condition to the press and public during the acute emergency, said that "half a year has passed, but perhaps it is not enough for a cool assessment of what happened... All professional assessments have reached the conclusion that the prime minister received the normative treatment, but I can't say it was successful, as he is still unconscious. "There is no solution for everything. Medical treatment is full of alternatives, and doctors have to make decisions. A correct decision may lead to a poor result and a poor decision may lead to a good one." Mor-Yosef disclosed that an upcoming issue of the English-language Israel Medical Association Journal (IMAJ) will be published soon with an in-depth analysis of Sharon's treatment, the hospital's readiness and the way it dealt with the media. Dr. Ofer Grosbard, a clinical psychologist who has written a book alleging that the late prime minister Menachem Begin suffered from bipolar disorder (manic depression), criticized his closest associates for failing to reveal his problems even when Begin was unable to function adequately. But when Begin was clearheaded and in charge, he received an offer from the General Security Services to test the excretions of an unnamed Arab leader who secretly visited Israel, disclosed Dr. Yigal Sheffi, an expert on security studies at Tel Aviv University. The GSS was ready to tell Begin whether this leader had was healthy or not likely to survive and thus not worth negotiating with. Begin abruptly turned down the offer, Sheffi said, because "he was afraid the news would leak out; it was not proper to do such a thing to a foreign leader, and because Begin thought that he would be able to determine the Arab leader's condition just by meeting with him." A full report on the Jerusalem Ethics Center symposium will appear on the Health Page on Sunday, July 16.