Tissue, Skin, Bone and Organ Harvesting at Israel’s National Forensic Institute
By NANCY SCHEPER-HUGHES
Editorial Note: Nancy Scheper-Hughes is professor of anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, where she directs the doctoral program in medicine and society. Since 1996, she has been involved in active field research on the global traffic in human organs, following the movement of bodies, body parts, transplant doctors, their patients, brokers, and kidney sellers, and the practices of organ and tissue harvesting in several countries – from Brazil, Argentina, and Cuba, to Moldova, Israel and Turkey, to India, South Africa, and the United States. She is a co-founder of Organs Watch, an independent, medical human rights, research and documentation center at UC Berkeley.
What follows is her detailed report on the tissue, skin, bone and organ harvesting conducted for many years at Israel’s L. Greenberg National Institute of Forensic Medicine, a.k.a. The Abu Kabir Institute, under the aegis of its former director and current chief pathologist, Dr. Yehuda Hiss. Long before Donald Boström leveled allegations of organ-harvesting from Palestinians in the Swedish tabloid, Aftonbladet, in August 2009, causing furious accusations of “blood libel,” Dr. Scheper-Hughes had already interviewed Dr. Hiss and had on tape the interview that forms part of her report here.
Dr. Scheper-Hughes says her purpose here is to refute the controversial official statements of the Ministry of Health and the IDF that while there may have been irregularities at the National Forensic Institute, they have long since ended. To this day, she says, they have failed to acknowledge, punish, or rectify various medical human rights abuses, past and present at the National Forensic Institute. While many of the allegations are widely known, the testimony by Israeli state pathologist and IDF (reserve) Lt. Col. Chen Kugel has never been published in English and his allegations are known only within Israel. Dr. Scheper-Hughes invited Dr. Kugel to speak publicly on this topic in the U.S. on May 6, 2010.
There are three lawsuits ongoing in Israel at the present moment concerning the Forensic Institute and Dr. Hiss. Two concerns alleged abuses against the dead bodies of Israeli citizens. The third concerns Rachel Corrie, a U.S. citizen who was killed in Gaza in 2003 while protesting the demolition of houses. Transcripts of court proceedings show that Corrie’s autopsy was conducted in contravention of an Israeli court order that an official from the U.S. Embassy be present. These transcripts also show Dr. Hiss conceding that he had kept samples from Corrie’s body without her family’s knowledge. Dr. Hiss also testified that he was uncertain where these samples now are. For his part, Dr. Kugel asserts that abuses at the Institute continue to this day.
The Scheper-Hughes article takes care to note Dr. Kugel’s description of his former mentor, Dr. Hiss, as a man who saw himself as willing to take great personal and professional risks “to serve a noble end… to help the war-wounded victims of terrorist attacks,” with his actions “as something sublime, or even heroic, as a modern-day Robin Hood.” AC/JSC