Exclusive: Psychiatrist may have conflict of interest

Conflict of interest may have plagued psychiatrist's evaluation of alleged abusive mother.

child starving mother with guard 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
child starving mother with guard 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The psychiatrist who was appointed by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to examine the haredi mother who allegedly starved her son at the Hadassah Medical Center in Ein Kerem was fired a few months ago by the same hospital, which was dissatisfied with his dealings with his patients, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The hospital's pediatricians suspected that the mother suffers from the rare Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSP) and deliberately caused her toddler harm to get attention and be close to medical facilities. Dr. Yaakov Weill had worked as a sexologist in a part-time position at Hadassah. He is not among the handful of Israeli experts in MSP. Weill, who is not Orthodox, was asked by the court to examine the woman from the Toldot Aharon hassidic community, which agreed to his selection. He spent a few hours with the woman, who is being kept under house arrest in the home of a haredi activist, and determined that she did not suffer from MSP, posed no danger to her other children, and was fit to stand trial. But the court apparently did not investigate Weill's background thoroughly enough to discover that he might have had his own axe to grind with Hadassah, which extremists in haredi community have accused Hadassah of "conducting medical experiments" on the boy. Moreover, a year ago, the American Academy of Pediatrics released official guidelines for detecting MSP that stipulated pediatricians - and not psychiatrists - were qualified for this by finding specific signs of abuse and ruling out physical causes for a child's deterioration. Hadassah pediatricians followed these guidelines exactly during the boy's treatment, which has been strongly criticized by the family and its supporters, Ben-Yehuda said. They have claimed the boy weighed only seven kilos not because the mother abused him but because he actually had and was treated for cancer - all charges that have been denied by Hadassah. Meanwhile, the three-year-old boy has gained more than three kilos during less than three weeks of treatment at Hadassah since his mother was arrested. He is able to talk, feed himself and even walk with help, a great change since he weighed only seven kilos and lay on the bed motionless when his mother was at his side. He will not need hospital care much longer if he is well cared for at home or by relatives elsewhere, said Dr. Yoram Ben-Yehuda, director of Hadassah's pediatric emergency room. The Post has learned that videos taken of the mother in the child's room - which are in possession of the police - showed her "fiddling" with his gastroscopic feeding tube leading into his stomach. Nurses forbade her from touching it, but her alleged efforts to disconnect the tube continued and were documented. MSP is regarded by experts in the disease - of which there have been only 2,000 cases around the world in the last six decades - as nearly impossible to diagnose according to psychiatric criteria and to treat. Nevertheless, the court assigned Weill to examine the woman and recommend whether she was able to stand trial, was mentally ill, required a longer psychiatric examination or was innocent.