THE USSR VS. DR. MIKHAIL STERN: An ""Ordinary"" Trial in the Soviet Union by August--Ed. Stern

THE USSR VS. DR. MIKHAIL STERN: An ""Ordinary"" Trial in the Soviet Union

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KIRKUS REVIEW

August Stern's edited, unofficial transcript of his doctor father's big 1974 trial is more interesting for the insights it provides into the daily workings of Soviet medicine than as the record of an anti-Semitic, politically inspired Soviet miscarriage of justice. Ever since the show trials of the 1930s, when the Soviets exposed the seamier side of their judicial processes to world view, Westerners have had little excuse to ignore its irregularities. The charges of bribing and swindling leveled against Dr. Stern, following his son's attempts to emigrate, are but the latest example of the law serving the state at the expense of justice. Rarely, however, are Westerners permitted such an intimate view of health-care in the Soviet Union as this trial provided. By law all Soviet citizens are entitled to the best available medical care free of cost. In practice, as the accused freely admits, ""there is an age old tradition of thanking doctors, and it's not for us to change it!"" Clearly, Dr. Stern often accepted garden produce and money for his services. Equally clearly, the relevant Soviet law is deliberately full of loopholes which muddle the distinctions between legal private practice, the simple acceptance of gifts, and illegal payment. Often the scarcity of drugs alone forces Soviet doctors--and Stern's case provides several examples--to operate on the fringes of legality. For example was it legal (or for that matter ethical) for Dr. Stern to purchase scarce drugs for his patients from private (i.e., black market) sources? As a comment on Soviet justice, August Stern's work is of questionable value; the trial transcript is repetitious and punctuated with the editor's own, highly subjective impressions of events in the courtroom (""JUDGE sits in stunned silence. . . PROSECUTOR shows panic on his face. . . DEFENSE COUNSEL is impenetrable""). But the book's candid glimpse of the Soviet medical system is an unexpected boon.

Pub Date: Oct. 17th, 1977
Publisher: Urizen--dist. by Dutton