Analysis: In the event of incapacitation

The fact that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was unable to make decisions on the night he suffered his first stroke two weeks ago, and that the effects of the stroke lasted more than 24 hours, should set off alarm bells among the country's lawmakers. For the fact is that current law does not provide a satisfactory response to handle a situation like the one created by Sharon's temporary incapacitation that night. The law that deals with temporarily filling in for the prime minister is the Basic Law: Government. Article 16 (b) states: "If the prime minister is temporarily unable to fulfill his duties, the deputy prime minister will replace him." However, the law fails to stipulate who is authorized to determine whether the prime minister is unable to fulfill his duties. According to Israel Broadcasting Authority legal commentator Moshe Negbi, the Knesset needs to pass a law authorizing a body, such as a medical committee or the government, to make that decision. No matter who it is, the new law would also have to stipulate that as soon as the doctors treating the prime minister suspect that he might be incapacitated, they must immediately inform the authorized body of their concern. No one but the legally appointed body could determine that fact. If it decided that the prime minister was indeed incapacitated, it would be clear, even according to existing law, that the deputy prime minister must fill in for him. In the meantime, there is no such law. On the night of Sharon's stroke, his doctors informed Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert about the situation. No formal measures were taken and the public was not fully informed of the real situation until a week later. Negbi recommended that the outgoing Knesset reconvene immediately to amend the law to prevent such a situation from recurring.