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March 31, 2023

Lukmed’s guards

Another one of the country’s esteemed physicians has entered the crosshairs of the investigative authorities. Mihai Lucan is an authority in Romanian urology and especially in kidney transplant activities.

An honorary citizen of Cluj, an adviser on health issues of the then-Premier Emil Boc, a person upon whom the country’s President had bestowed awards, the long-term director of a health clinic in Cluj, but also of a prosperous private clinic, physician Lucan is a medical personality well-known throughout the country.

Hundreds of thousands of patients, not solely Romanians, have used his services. His activity was supported by two long-term mayors – Gheorghe Funar and Emil Boc – but the circle of his protectors was very wide. So wide that it blocked for many years any substantial institutional reaction that would have threatened his activity. But few people in Cluj had not heard of his practices, even though they had not personally dealt with him. After all, if his case has gone beyond the level of gossip, that is the merit of a current House lawmaker – Emanuel Ungureanu – who has been lodging complaints against him for years.

And even though at this moment he is investigated mostly for embezzlement – he allegedly used the state-owned clinic to the benefit of his private clinic –, the accusations are far larger. Firstly, he was demanding money from people who had health insurance, who should have been treated and operated for free. But very many physicians demand money, especially surgeons.

Or, if they do not make the medical intervention conditional in this way, they accept money after the surgery. Lucan was only among the greediest, because he could have left people to die unless they paid. He himself offered them solutions: selling a domestic animal – if they were from the countryside – or even their house.

From this standpoint, he is extremely representative for an entire system based, too often, on kickbacks. People who pay health insurance for a lifetime are compelled to come up with (sometimes) considerable sums of money to pay a physician who already has a legal salary. Compared to others, Lucan was simply more cynical, speculating to the maximum the patients’ willingness to do anything to avoid death, disability, or pain.

But Lucan was humiliating his patients and even his collaborators more than other tyrannical “professors” do in the wards they rule with an iron fist. It is hard to imagine the atmosphere of terror he had managed to bring about in order to transform his “colleagues” into partners in crime. Because Lucan did not settle for kickbacks. He managed to put the state-owned clinic at the behest of the private clinic, channelling patients from the former to the latter, but also using state-subsidised resources to the benefit of the private one.

The image is that of countless patients operated on and then carried on stretchers down a street separating the two clinics. In this case too, Lucan simply unashamedly speculated the opportunities offered by an ambiguous system: plenty of physicians, especially renowned ones, are working both in the public and the private systems, a combination often full of personal benefits.

However, “public relations” was the domain in which the urology professor surpassed his brethren by far. As recounted by Emanuel Ungureanu, Lucan was capable of making a diagnosis worse than it really was and even of needlessly operating on people that he would thus make indebted to him and who would, when needed, offer him services in return. And the main service was the protection of his immense business.

Because of his position, Mayor Emil Boc – who was his patient on repeated occasions – became his main ally. Although the plot of land needed for the construction of his own private clinic was received at the end of Funar’s stint, several substantial modifications to the contract – in Lucan’s favour (among them the possibility to underlet a laboratory, which brought him significant gain) – were brought during Boc’s term in office. But apart from all this, there is the gravest moral problem.

Many politicians, but also magistrates and press owners looked away for years on end. Either because it suited them to have an open door in case of illness – theirs or that of persons close to them – or because they were indifferent to the countless victims of this system. As many others who are at the top of the social pyramid. For whom social and especially moral responsibility are only empty words, good at most for deceiving the plebs. What does it matter if your neighbour has died because his transplant was delayed if you found it easy to jump the waiting line just because you are more popular or more influential.

The case of the transplant is the cherry on top when it comes to Lucan’s practices. Alongside others – among them even the incumbent Health Minister –, Lucan instituted very loose rules for the allocation of transplant organs. Moreover, a bill in this sense is about to legislate arbitrariness favouring the heads of clinics. In other words, soon, Lucan could have the legal right to perform an organ transplant in favour of those whom he chooses.

Just as before, but now perfectly legal. In favour of the one who pays most, for instance. Or of a politician who will never forget who saved his life. At the expense of many “poor,” countless children among them.

A nightmarish image, but perfectly possible: a rich person driving an SUV kills a child on a pedestrian crossing. One of the child’s organs is preferentially transplanted to one of the murderer’s relatives. The murderer ends up receiving – as happens in plenty of such cases – a suspended sentence. Why is someone like Emil Boc to blame? Because he could not have ignored the price of his friend’s success, a friend whom he even selected as adviser to the Premier.

Why are so many journalists and press owners to blame? Because they were mum, or they vehemently defended him – just like today. Why are magistrates or people from the intelligence services to blame? Because not only did they feign not seeing what every person in Cluj was seeing, but they also buried the few complaints. Why are the civil servants from the Health Ministry to blame?

Because they carried out fictitious audits, while lodged at the most luxurious hotel in the city.

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