Ariel Sharon Dead at 77
Note: They seem to be alone in reporting this. Scroll down for updates. As of 1243 EST, the best guess is that Sharon is alive but in a coma.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the most powerful Israeli leader in 50 years, has died. He was 77.
Sharon was declared dead by physicians at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital before 1 p.m. Israeli time [6 a.m. EST], Middle East Newsline reported. Authorities have already been notified of the death, and a government announcement was expected to be issued over the next hour.
The stroke suffered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon could prove to be one of the great disasters in the country’s nearly 60-year history. As I write this, Sharon’s condition remains uncertain, but the severity of his stroke makes it unlikely that he will survive, let alone return to power. That could be disastrous because Sharon represented, indeed embodied, the emergence of a rational, farsighted national idea that seemed poised in the coming elections to create a stable governing political center for the first time in decades.
Sharon’s genius was to seize upon and begin implementing a third way. With a negotiated peace illusory and a Greater Israel untenable, he argued that the only way to security was a unilateral redrawing of Israel’s boundaries by building a fence around a new Israel and withdrawing Israeli soldiers and settlers from the other side. The other side would become independent Palestine.
The problem is that the vehicle for this Sharonist centrism, his new Kadima Party, is only a few weeks old, has no institutional structure and is hugely dependent on the charisma of and public trust in Sharon.
To be sure, Kadima is not a one-man party. It immediately drew large numbers of defectors from the old left and right parties (Labor and Likud), including cabinet members and members of parliament. It will not collapse overnight. But Sharon’s passing from the scene will weaken it in the coming March elections and will jeopardize its future. Sharon needed time, perhaps just a year or two, to rule the country as Kadima leader, lay down its institutional roots and groom a new generation of party leaders to take over after him.
This will not happen. There is no one in the country, let alone in his party, with his prestige and standing. Ehud Olmert, his deputy and now acting prime minister, is far less likely to score the kind of electoral victory that would allow a stable governing majority.
Kadima represents an idea whose time has come. But not all ideas whose time has come realize themselves. They need real historical actors to carry them through. Sharon was a historical actor of enormous proportion, having served in every one of Israel’s wars since its founding in 1948, having almost single-handedly saved Israel with his daring crossing of the Suez Canal in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, and now having broken Israel’s left-right political duopoly that had left the country bereft of any strategic ideas to navigate the post-Oslo world. Sharon put Israel on the only rational strategic path out of that wreckage. But, alas, he had taken his country only halfway there when he himself was taken away. And he left no Joshua.
Sadly, no. Of course, Lyndon Johnson managed to make nearly unthinkable changes in the American political landscape using the ghost of John Kennedy. One hopes “Ariel Sharon would have wanted this” becomes a similarly effective tool in Israeli politics.
Hat tip: Shawn Wasson
Update (1059): AP is running a story timestamped 1050 EST entitled, “Sharon’s Brain Scan Shows Improvement.”
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon showed “significant improvement” after five hours of emergency brain surgery Friday, and his intracranial pressure returned to normal, hospital officials said.
AP has a story timestamped 1044 EST entitled “Sharon’s Recovery Becomes More Unlikely”
The chances of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon recovering from his massive stroke became even more remote Friday after doctors reported more bleeding in his brain. Surgeons operated on the 77-year-old premier again Friday for five hours in an effort to remove the latest blood clot and relieve swelling in his brain – life-threatening complications that, while not unexpected, make the prospect of survival ever slimmer, experts say. “It sounds like a last desperate attempt to salvage something, but the prognosis must now be terrible,” said Dr. Anthony Rudd, a stroke specialist at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.
There was no word on Sharon’s condition following the surgery. He was to undergo a brain scan.
Meanwhile, a Reuters report dated “7 minutes ago” is titled, “Surgeons stop Sharon’s cranial bleeding: hospital.”
Surgeons managed to stop new bleeding in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s brain in an emergency operation on Friday and he remains in critical but stable condition, a doctor said. “During the surgery the cranial pressure was released and some of the blood clots that remained from the previous surgery were drained. At the end of the operation there is no active bleeding,” Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director of Jerusalem’s Hadassah hospital, told reporters. He said Sharon’s brain scan showed “significant improvement” compared with previous scans. But Mor-Yosef added: “His condition is still critical but stable.”
Medical experts said that if Sharon pulled through, his faculties could be seriously impaired, making a return to work impossible. His deputy, Ehud Olmert, was named acting prime minister on Wednesday after Sharon fell ill. “This is the deadliest and most disabling form of stroke that we face,” Dr. Stephan Mayer, associate professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Update (1245): In a piece GoogleNews dates “17 hours ago,” Israeli Insider’s Emanuel A. Winston writes,
An early report stated that Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is dead after suffering a massive stroke – a brain hemorrhage which resulted in a 7 hour brain surgery. Then his doctors put him into an “induced coma”, that is, totally sedated with anesthetic – with machines maintaining his bodily functions. Later reports insisted that he was alive.
There is a state of “in-between” wherein the machinery available to us through modern science can keep the human body alive while the brain is dead. There is no question that, between heart/lung machines and other devices a comatose person can lay tranquilly in a bed, all pink and seemingly alive.
Update (1556): By all accounts, Sharon is alive but in grave condition. World Tribune has removed the story from its front pages and the link above takes one to a sloppily-edited piece entitled, “Conflicting reports issued on Sharon’s condition.”
UPDATE: 20 July 2008: Ariel Sharon is still alive. Here’s the latest news on his health:
Stroke of December 2005
On December 18, 2005 Sharon was sent to Hadassah Medical Center after suffering a mild stroke, specifically a relatively unusual type of stroke called a paradoxical embolism, in which a clot from the venous circulation crosses over into the arterial circulation through a hole between the right and left atrium called an atrial septal defect (or a patent foramen ovale) and goes to the brain, causing a transient speech and motor disturbance.
On his way to the hospital he lost consciousness but regained it shortly thereafter. He reportedly wanted to leave the hospital the evening after his arrival but the hospital wanted him to stay another day. He spent two days in the hospital and was to have had the small hole in his heart repaired by a cardiac catheterization procedure in early January.
Stroke of January 2006
On January 4, 2006, in the evening before his catheterization, Sharon suffered a second, far more serious stroke at his Havat Hashikmim ranch in the Negev region. A “massive cerebral haemorrhage” led to bleeding in his brain which doctors eventually brought under control the following morning after performing two separate operations. After the first operation, lasting seven hours, Hadassah Director Shlomo Mor-Yosef reported Sharon’s bleeding had stopped and his brain was functioning without artificial support. After a second, 14-hour surgery, Sharon was placed on a ventilator and some reports suggested that he was suffering from paralysis in his lower body, while others said he was still fighting for his life. He was placed in an induced coma and his Prime Ministerial duties were handed over to his deputy, Ehud Olmert. On Friday, January 6, Sharon was brought back into the operating theatre after doctors reviewed the results of a brain scan. Hospital officials declined to comment on these reports.
On the night of Sharon’s stroke, in the wake of his serious illness and following consultations between Government Secretary Israel Maimon and Attorney General Menachem Mazuz, Sharon was declared “temporarily incapable of discharging his powers.” As a result, Ehud Olmert, the Deputy Prime Minister, was officially confirmed as the Acting Prime Minister of Israel. Olmert and the Cabinet announced that the elections would take place on 28 March as scheduled.
On January 9, Haaretz reported that while performing tests on Sharon while treating his second stroke, doctors had discovered he was suffering from undiagnosed cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA), a brain disorder which, in conjunction with blood thinners prescribed after his first stroke, greatly increased his risk of cerebral hemorrhage. Although some have insinuated that this news represents a failure on Hadassah’s part to provide adequate care for Sharon, CAA can be very difficult to accurately diagnose, and is often only discovered after an individual suffers a brain hemorrhage. The following day, newspapers reported that Sharon’s CAA had actually been diagnosed following his first stroke in December. This was confirmed by hospital director Mor-Yosef who commented that “Hadassah physicians were aware of the brain diagnosis, and no new diagnosis has been made during the current hospitalization.” Mor-Yosef declined to respond to criticism of the combination of blood thinners and a CAA diagnosis, though Haaretz quoted some doctors as saying the medication led to the second stroke and that it would never have been given if doctors had known about his brain condition.
Sharon underwent subsequent surgeries the following month. On February 11, 2006, doctors performed emergency surgery to remove 50-cm of his large intestine that had become necrotic, probably because of a blood clot. On 22 February, he underwent an additional procedure to drain excess fluid from his stomach, discovered during a routine CT scan.
Several commentators have noted that Sharon’s care was potentially flawed. Most seriously, after his second stroke, Sharon was transported by ground ambulance to the hospital, a trip that took approximately one hour. Helicopter transport was not utilized. Also, other commentators have said that the dose of blood thinner given to Sharon was potentially problematic for someone who had recently suffered a stroke.
According to Israeli law, an Acting Prime Minister can remain in office 100 days after the Prime Minister has become incapacitated. After 100 days, the Israeli President must appoint a new Prime Minister. At the time of his stroke, Sharon enjoyed considerable support from the general public in Israel. The new centrist political party that he founded, Kadima, won the largest number of seats in the Knesset elections held on 28 March 2006. (Since Sharon was unable to sign a nomination form, he was not a candidate and therefore ceased to be a Knesset member.)
On 6 April, President of Israel Moshe Katsav formally asked Olmert to form a government, making him Prime Minister-Designate. Olmert had an initial period of 28 days to form a governing coalition, with a possible two-week extension. On 11 April 2006, the Israeli Cabinet deemed that Sharon was incapacitated. Although Sharon’s replacement was to be named within 100 days of his becoming incapacitated, the replacement deadline was extended due to the Jewish festival of Passover. A provision was made that, should Sharon’s condition improve between 11 April and 14 April, the declaration would not take effect. Therefore, the official declaration took effect on 14 April, formally ending Sharon’s term as Prime Minister and making Ehud Olmert the country’s new Prime Minister.
On 28 May 2006, Sharon was transferred from the hospital in Jerusalem to a long-term care unit of the Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer, a large civilian and military hospital. Ha’aretz reported that this move was an indication that Sharon’s doctors did not expect him to emerge from his coma in the foreseeable future. Dr. Yuli Krieger, a physician not involved in Sharon’s case, told Israel Radio that the chances of waking up after such a lengthy coma were small. “Every day that passes after this kind of event with the patient still unconscious the chances that he will gain consciousness get smaller,” said Krieger, Deputy Head of Levinstein House, another long-term care facility.
On 23 July 2006, CNN reported that Sharon’s condition was deteriorating and his kidney function was worsening. On July 26, 2006 doctors moved him to intensive care and began hemofiltration. On 14 August 2006 doctors reported that Sharon’s condition worsened significantly and that he was suffering from pneumonia in both lungs. On August 29, doctors reported that he had been successfully treated for his pneumonia and moved out of intensive care back to the long-term care unit.
On 3 November 2006, it was reported that Sharon had been admitted to intensive care after contracting an infection, though doctors insisted that his condition was ‘stable’. He was moved out of the intensive care unit on November 6, 2006 after treatment for a heart infection. Doctors stated that “his heart function has improved after being treated for an infection and his overall condition has stabilised”.
Sharon has remained in a long-term care centre since 6 November 2006.. Medical experts have indicated that Sharon’s cognitive abilities were destroyed by the massive stroke, and that he is in a persistent vegetative state with extremely slim chances of regaining consciousness.
On 13 April 2007, it was reported that Sharon’s condition had slightly improved and that according to his son, Omri, he was marginally responsive.