Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari said that the government would send an official letter to Anthony Gaspari, a dermatologist at the University of Maryland, to question his taking abroad of tissue and blood samples from an Indonesian patient without official authorization.
The minister issued the statement Sunday after visiting the patient, Dede, who is being treated in Hasan Sadikin Hospital, Bandung, for epidermo-displacia and giant cutaneous horn, which have severely disfigured him. The dry tree bark-like appearance of his skin had earned Dede the sobriquet "Tree Man".
"Samples are very important, particularly for infections caused by viruses. If (the samples are taken abroad, they could become lucrative commodities," she said.
"Therefore, the state reserves the right to authorize the removal from the country of samples. Whatever the reasons are ... Dr. Anthony Gaspari never contacted the Indonesian authorities before he conducted a biopsy on Dede and took the samples abroad," she said.
Dede's condition became public knowledge after RCTI TV broadcast a Discovery Channel documentary on his plight earlier this month. Rather unsympathetically titled Half Man, Half Tree, the documentary was so moving that after watching it President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and First Lady Kristiani Herawati called Siti Fadilah Supari and asking the minister to prioritize Dede's treatment.
The Discovery Channel paid Dede US$500 for appearing in the documentary, and brought Gaspari to Indonesia to examine him.
The minister also asked the media not to exploit the suffering of people afflicted with serious illnesses, like Dede, merely for the sake of profit.
"How much money did he get from the documentary? It is a matter of human rights. Do not take advantage of these people. They should be given enough money to treat their illness," she said.