Bad Blood: France's AIDS Trial

  • Share
  • Read Later
Next Tuesday in Paris an extraordinary jury composed of judges and legislators will pass judgment in a case that has held France in a sickly thrall since 1987. Three former French government officials facing charges of "involuntary homicide" and criminal "inattentiveness and negligence" will learn their fate in the final scene of a 12-year drama that has spanned the depths of human tragedy and the shallows of bureaucratic torpor, with a strong supporting cast of ignorance, chauvinism and arrogance.

At issue is whether the three former Socialist officials -- Laurent Fabius, prime minister from 1984 to 1986, former secretary of state for health Edmond Hervé and former social affairs minister Georgina Dufoix -- should be held responsible for the government's failure to promptly implement the testing of blood at a time when it was already suspected to be a medium of transmission for the AIDS virus. Although the government was warned in March 1985 that almost all of the National Center for Blood Transfusion's stock was HIV-tainted, no action was taken for several months. The delay was responsible for the infection of some 4,400 individuals, about 40 percent of whom have since died of AIDS.

But there probably would have been no trial had the issue simply been a matter of lack of foresight. These were politicians, after all, not medical experts. However, Fabius, Hervé and Dufoix are accused of delaying the implementation of mandatory blood screening, even though government scientists had already vetted a test devised by Abbot, an American company. Delaying the final approval of that test was seen as a way to give a French company, Diagnostics-Pasteur, a crucial head start for its own product in what was expected to become a lucrative market. The fact that Fabius's health adviser at the time was a former Pasteur administrator didn't help appearances.

Hervé and Dufoix face even graver charges as well. Hervé is accused of failing to enforce recommendations by health authorities dating as early as May 1983 about screening blood donors -- recommendations that many of the nation's blood banks took seriously enough to start following on their own initiative. (Ironically, a national culture that is uncommonly generous in blood donation made France particularly vulnerable to the risks from transfusion.)

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2