In hospital, terrorists are equal


When a terrorist arrives in an Israeli hospital after being injured in an attack, he is treated like any other patient.

This means that if the perpetrator's wounds are worse than those of the victims, he will be seen to first, according to Dr Ofer Merin, head of the trauma unit at Jerusalem's Shaare Zedek Medical Centre - on the front line of the ongoing wave of Palestinian terror attacks.

Speaking to the JC on a recent visit to London, Dr Merin said that he and his staff rigorously adhere to an ethical code.

"The bottom line is very clear. We have to be very strict in treating everyone equally.

"We cannot afford to put ourselves in the position of judges because that is a slippery slope. You start with the terrorist but then you go on to other people. So, much as this is difficult, we have something that is very clear: people who enter the hospital are equal."

New guidelines published by the Israel Medical Association's Ethics Committee last week called for paramedics to treat the most severely injured first, even if that person is a terrorist.

Dr Merin said he finds treating a terrorist relatively easy as it involves urgent medical decisions. It is what comes afterwards - the doctor-patient relationship - that he finds difficult.

"I cannot sit next to a terrorist and hold his hand and say everything is going to be fine. This part is missing."

But dignity is essential no matter who he is dealing with and, unless there is a direct risk, he insists that handcuffs are removed before he examines a patient.

"There are six beds in the trauma unit. In bed number one could be a lady injured by a terrorist, in bed number two could be a child injured by a terrorist, and then bed number three could be the terrorist himself," said the 55-year-old doctor, who has spent 23 years working at the private, charity-funded Shaare Zedek hospital.

"Try to think about the mother who sees her daughter injured after someone tried to kill her, and sees us giving treatment to a terrorist."

Dr Merin's unit has treated around 120 attack victims in the past two months. The constant flow of injured means that healthcare workers in Israel are "facing a huge mental burden," he said.

Dr Merin is also commander of the IDF field hospital, and travels with his team to disaster zones around the world. In the past five years, he has been deployed five times, including going to Nepal after the earthquake in April.

He said: "The peak of my personal career is being in these disaster areas. The things you confront, the decisions that you have to make is something that is so different to what you do in your regular life. It needs all your different personal abilities as a physician, as a person, as someone who has to use ethical judgement, as someone who is responsible for other people."

The Israeli team is renowned for being one of the first to arrive and for providing a high level of medical care.

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