Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

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24 Elul 5765 - September 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Plea Bargaining Agreement with Prof. Hess in Organ Snatching Scandal

By Betzalel Kahn

According to a plea-bargaining agreement the State Prosecutor recently reached with Professor Yehuda Hess, the director of the Forensics Institute at Abu-Kabir, will receive a reprimand for his part in the scandal surrounding the removal of organs and tissues for research purposes from 125 bodies brought for autopsies, says a report published in Ha'aretz.

The scandal received extensive media coverage over the past few years. A special Health Ministry commission and a police investigation led to grave findings against Prof. Hess, who allegedly acted illegally, harmed kovod hameis, performed autopsies in violation of court orders, deceived family members and Health Ministry officials and even tried to document ex post facto the removal of bones taken from bodies without consent—either from the deceased while still alive or from the family members—for research, instruction and display purposes.

A report by the Health Ministry's Segalson Commission determined that the organs, tissues and bones taken from the bodies were sent to the research department at the Institute or to hospitals in exchange for payment used to cover the cost of the autopsy. In other cases organs, tissues and bones were taken for displays set up by various employees at the Institute. In one case a doctor had a collection of skulls pieced together from bone parts and a collection of pieces of tattooed skin, including a large piece of skin taken from the back of one body. "A museum of skulls was found at the Institute, including those of soldiers shot in the head," said Judge Segalson during one of the Knesset meetings to discuss the affair.

Following the investigations conducted by investigating committees, restrictions were placed on Prof. Hess' authority. But despite public demands to press criminal charges against him, the State Prosecutor took only disciplinary measures against him.

According to Ha'aretz, the plea-bargaining agreement reached between Hess and the State Prosecutor during hearings held at the Disciplinary Court for State Workers has yet to receive court approval. The bill of complaint states that Prof. Hess was in charge of all Institute activities, including autopsies in accordance with the Anatomy and Pathology Law.

According to the bill of complaint, between 1996 and 2000 the Institute performed thousands of autopsies to determine the cause of death and in 125 cases organs or tissues were removed for use by various research organizations although the family had not given consent and in some cases had even objected. In 105 of the cases samples were taken for research purposes based on the family members' consent to perform the autopsy, without verifying whether they agreed to have tissue samples removed permanently. In 13 cases tissue samples were taken although the family gave consent to have an autopsy performed only to determine the cause of death.

According to the report, in seven other cases samples were taken based on court orders to perform autopsies to determine the cause of death but without permission given to remove tissues.

The State Prosecutor charged that Prof. Hess, "was negligent in carrying out the task with which he was charged as director and as a state worker, by refraining from setting orderly work guidelines to ensure that the law was strictly upheld in a manner that would prevent the removal of samples for research without the explicit consent of the family members . . . and was negligent in setting guidelines to check the family members' consent for autopsies given at the police station."

Several of the families of Prof. Hess' deceased victims reacted harshly to the plea-bargaining agreement. Ora Berez, the mother of Tamar Berez whose body was desecrated at Abu- Kabir and whose jaw bones were buried at a different site after being preserved at the Institute, called it "a shocking cover-up."

"From the very beginning I was disappointed with the State Prosecutor, who did not file a criminal indictment against [Hess] following the Segalson Commission as the police recommended," Berez said Monday. "This is an insult to all of the victims. On the other hand, finally there is an admission. The Health Ministry defended him all along and he did not accept any responsibility, claiming he acting in accordance with the Anatomy and Pathology Law."

An irate reaction was also issued by the family of a boy from Dimona whose body was autopsied and a pathologist from Denmark later discovered that several organs had been removed from the boy and had disappeared. "First of all Hess has to go," said the father, "and an upstanding person brought in to replace him. A reprimand is not a sufficient punishment for him for all of the thefts and the suffering he caused us and many other families. I think a man like this should be sitting in jail."


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