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Abusing Volunteers

Abusing volunteers
By Haaretz Editorial

A secret medical experiment that injected soldiers with the anti-
anthrax vaccine, run over eight years beginning in 1998, raises
alarming questions about the army authorities' conduct.

The army conducted the experiment, code-named Omer 2, under a cloak
of secrecy, furtiveness and panic. Now, as details emerge despite the
military authorities, it is clear that the soldiers involved have
been brushed aside with half-truths and evasion.

The experiment was carried out on obedient, motivated soldiers from
elite units. Indeed, they volunteered for the mission, but in such
circumstances, what they did cannot be called volunteering in any
way. Had not a few of them started suffering from serious after-
effects, they themselves would probably be covering up the system's
blunders to this day.

The details are now beginning to see the light of day, after a
petition was submitted to the High Court of Justice by a group of
young adults suffering from breathing and skin problems and having
various degrees of difficulty with everyday functions. The
petitioners are demanding that the army accept responsibility for
them and treat their condition. They are also demanding that it
reveal the experiment's decision-making process and supervision
mechanism. The defense establishment' s refusal to provide a clear
answer increases the sense of alarm over its conduct.

The authorities claim to this day that the American vaccine (which
was given to a quarter of the group taking part in the experiment)
was "completely safe" already at the time, because it had been tried
successfully in the United States. However, it was known that until
2005 about half of the U.S.'s soldiers refused to be vaccinated with
this substance due to the fear of after-effects.

Three-quarters of the Israeli soldiers in the experiment were
injected with an Israeli vaccine, which had not been tried until
then. Both those given the American vaccine and those given the
Israeli vaccine are suffering from after-effects today.

The study was a closely-kept secret, although the director of the
Israel Institute for Biological Research in Nes Tziona, Professor
Avigdor Shafferman, who headed the experiment, now claims that the
vaccine's composition was not classified. Details of the Israeli
vaccine had been published already in 2001 in foreign periodicals and
in the domestic press.

Public health laws stipulate that a doctor may not conduct an
experiment on a person subject to his authority unless it is done
under the supervision of the Helsinki Committee and the Health
Ministry's pharmaceutical division. Needless to say, neither
condition was kept when Omer 2 was conducted on soldiers. Those who
conducted the experiment obtained the necessary permits, but it is
not known which civilian authorities supervised it, to what extent
they oversaw it at all and why there was no follow-up supervision of
the inoculated soldiers.

A Knesset bill governing human experiments, which passed its
preliminary reading earlier this week, tries to establish the
boundaries for what was described as lawlessness in the 55th State
Comptroller' s Report. Nothing is easier than conducting an experiment
on a "captive" group such as soldiers or infirm elderly people (like
the experiments at Hartzfeld Geriatric Hospital in Gedera).

Until this business is regulated by law, a committee of inquiry must
be set up to shed light on the concealed details, define the
responsibility toward the young civilians who were harmed and prevent
such occurrences in the future.