Is it ethical to refuse medical treatment to Hamas terrorists seeking care in Israeli hospitals, even though healthcare professionals have a moral duty to refrain from discrimination based on non-clinical factors? According to at least two senior physicians and ethicists, excluding the individuals responsible for the deaths of over 1,300 Israelis from Israeli public hospitals is justifiable and rooted in logical reasoning.
“Most Western democracies have an accepted policy that you treat the enemy medically like you treat your friends,” explained Prof. Shimon Glick, a professor emeritus in Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Health Science. “Once an enemy is wounded, sick or whatever, it is not the physician’s job to judge him. That is where courts, police, etc. come in.”
Israel has consistently provided medical care to Palestinian terrorists, including leaders of Palestinian resistance movements, over the years. Nonetheless, such occurrences were limited to smaller-scale events.
Treating Palestinian terrorists amid an ongoing war
According to Glick, the current situation should be seen as "acute."
“A terrible thing has happened, and everyone is appropriately uptight about it. From a psychological and practical point of view, these terrorists should not be treated at Israeli hospitals. They should be taken somewhere else,” he said.
On Wednesday night, many members of an ultra-nationalist group assembled at Sheba Medical Center to express their outrage over the hospital’s rumored treatment of a Hamas terrorist wounded during the organization’s vicious attack on southern Israel. The group engaged in altercations with both police and security personnel.
However, according to a Sheba spokesperson, while the terrorist had been brought to the hospital for treatment, senior hospital staff turned him away.
That evening, then-Health Minister Moshe Arbel sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, notifying him that he had instructed all public hospitals and health services to reroute injured terrorists to IDF or prison service medical facilities. By Thursday morning, there were reportedly no terrorists under treatment in Israeli public hospitals.
“The matter of providing medical care to the detested Hamas terrorists in public hospitals has placed immense pressure on the healthcare system,” Arbel wrote, emphasizing the importance of redirecting the system’s resources towards caring for the victims of the terrorists’ brutality, wounded soldiers, and preparing for future developments in the ongoing conflict.
Glick said several years ago, there were cases in the United States where doctors learned that their patients were Nazis and determined they could not provide treatment. He said this is the kind of situation that Israel is facing now.
“You have seen pictures of what happened this week. It is tough for a person, even a doctor, to say that they will not consider it when providing treatment,” Glick said. “Imagine a situation that in one of the units, someone just wounded by a terrorist is right next to the terrorist who wounded him.”
According to Prof. Hagai Levine, chairman of the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians, hospital managers feared that if terrorists were treated in their hospitals, it would disrupt regular treatment.
He said that while everyone deserves to be treated, it is “legitimate” to decide on a policy of where you treat patients; the terrorists are getting care just in other facilities.
He said that given the mass casualties – at least 3,000 wounded in the attack – the hospitals are already stretched too thin, and the quality of the treatment for Israeli patients could be hindered.
As Glick concluded: “Ethics is not only rules. You have to use common sense.”