Analysis: Doctoring the facts about Sharon's condition

Did the spin doctors control the real doctors?

omri sharon 298.88 (photo credit: )
omri sharon 298.88
(photo credit: )
The doctors who gave a press conference on December 26 to inform the public about Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's medical condition after his first stroke promised to give a frank report. Indeed, Prof. Tamir Ben-Hur, chief of neurology at Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem, told the political and diplomatic reporters who were invited to the hour-long meeting that he was there "as a doctor and not a politician." It is now clear that although Ben-Hur and the other doctors who attended the press conference - Prof. Chaim Lotan, chief of cardiology at Hadassah; and Sharon's personal physicians, Sheba Hospital director-general Prof. Boleslav Goldman and Sheba's internal medicine expert Prof. Shlomo Segev - may have told the truth, they did not tell the whole truth. At least one of the details they left out was that the doctors treating Sharon had discovered he was suffering from a disease of the blood vessels in his brain, which could lead to a cerebral hemorrhage. In failing to tell all, however, the doctors did not break the law, for there is no law specifically obliging the prime minister or any other political leader to divulge his state of health. There are, however, two legal principles that do relate to the situation that arose after Sharon's first stroke, according to Prof. Amnon Carmi of the University of Haifa's Faculty of Law. On the one hand, he said, every individual has the right to privacy. Doctors are not allowed to provide information on the state of health of their patients without the patients' permission. On the other hand, Carmi said, there is the principle of the public's right to know. Because Sharon is a public figure bearing great responsibility for the well-being of the country, the public has a right to know whether his ability to function effectively had been, or might be, negatively affected. These conflicting rights need to be balanced. But there is nothing in the law that would hold the prime minister or his doctors criminally liable for refusing to divulge everything. There is also the question of the expectations that the doctors themselves aroused by promising a frank report on Sharon's health. They clearly did not keep their promise. No one can say for certain why, but it is very likely that Sharon's advisers did not want the public to know everything. Sharon's departure from the hospital and the press conference on his state of health were very likely part of a campaign by his advisers to make sure that Kadima would not lose public support and that it was "business as usual." These types of decisions do not fall within the realm of criminal acts. According to Carmi, they involve questions of morality, proper political behavior and other ethical issues. Such matters are not to be settled in a court of law but in the public domain, at the ballot box, in the media and in the general public discourse. The fact is that no one so far has lodged a complaint with the attorney-general to investigate the press conference and the conduct of the doctors and Sharon's advisers. In response to a question on that issue by The Jerusalem Post, the Justice Ministry spokesman said: "We have not received any complaints on this matter [and we want to point out that on the face of it, it does not appear that there are aspects of the matter that pertain to the attorney-general]."