HMO, hospital boycott fertility conference in Jerusalem that excludes women doctors

Clalit pulls its sponsorship, Hadassah Medical Center cancels participation, Israeli Medical Association calls event ‘slap in the face’ to half the medical community

Renee Ghert-Zand is the health reporter and a feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Israel Medical Association chair Prof. Zion Hagay (Screenshot from YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Israel Medical Association chair Prof. Zion Hagay (Screenshot from YouTube; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Clalit Health Services, Israel’s largest HMO, has revoked its sponsorship of a conference hosted by Dorot Institute – Center for Fertility, Medicine and Halacha after it was reported that the event scheduled for April 20 in Jerusalem would not include women speakers.

Clalit also announced that its doctors would not participate in the conference.

In addition, Hadassah Medical Center has canceled its physicians’ participation, and the Israeli Medical Association has issued a plea to include female presenters.

Dorot Institute is an ultra-Orthodox organization catering to couples from the sector struggling to conceive. It was founded by the Chief Rabbi of Or Yehuda, Tzion Cohen after he sought a blessing from former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Israel Ovadia Yosef. Cohen and his wife subsequently welcomed triplets after 11 years of secondary infertility.

The organization states on its website that it provides medical consultation, financial help, emotional support, fertility preservation and  IVF supervision, and halachic guidance.

Hadassah released a statement clarifying that it is not involved in sponsoring the Dorot Institute conference or providing funding to its organizers.

“However, in light of the importance with which Hadassah views the involvement of women in all areas — particularly medicine — and despite our appreciation of Dorot Institute’s work for the sake of women regarding fertility and pregnancy, our doctors will not participate in the conference.”

Israeli Medical Association chair Prof. Zion Hagay called for Dorot Institute president Cohen to immediately change the composition of the medical participants to reflect the proportion of women in the medical field.

Hagay, an obstetrics and gynecology expert, referred to this exclusion of women as “a slap in the face” to female doctors who constitute half of all physicians in the health system.

The conference’s exclusion of women physicians is “against an IMA ethics committee position paper published more than a decade ago against a backdrop of similar situations,” Hagay said.

The position paper determined among other things that “the exclusion of women is an invalid practice that opposes the values of equality and democracy, and therefore is offensive to human dignity.”

Illustrative image: a single sperm is injected directly into an egg as part of IVF (Lars Neumann via iStock by Getty Images)

The paper further stated that no doctor should participate in any medical event that excludes women, either as doctors or patients.

“I request that all relevant bodies refuse in the future to participate in or sponsor any event that intends to exclude women from the medical profession,” Hagay said.

Hannah Katsman, a resource development coordinator for the Center for Women’s Justice, who has also worked with women after birth as a lactation consultant at Ichilov Hospital, is one of many women posting their outrage online.

“This has much wider implications than the conference itself. The Haredi leadership harms women by not allowing practitioners who serve Haredi women to learn from female experts in the field, as well as male ones,” Katsman told The Times of Israel.

“It also causes professional and financial harm to the women physicians who are excluded from such events. Haredi women often prefer female doctors or are advised to do so. But why should women go into medicine at all if their expertise won’t be valued?” she said.

Despite the opposition, Dorot Institute has made assurances via social media posts that the conference highlighting the latest fertility treatment advances will take place as scheduled.

“To our dismay, some of the presenters have been forced to not attend. We accept this with understanding,” Rabbi Itai Cohen said.

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