Doctor in Aids trial believed he was not doing wrong

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The Independent Online
THE MAIN defendant on trial for distributing Aids-infected blood products in France in 1985 made an unexpected plea to the victims yesterday, saying he had not believed he was doing wrong at the time.

Michel Garretta, the former head of the National Blood Transfusion Centre, asked Judge Jean-Louis Mazieres for permission to speak after testimony by haemophiliacs who are now HIV-positive and members of their families.

'In the conditions of the time, I never took decisions with indifference,' Dr Garretta said, his voice thick with emotion. 'I did not have the feeling that I was doing wrong.' He had tried to do the best for the patients and had never taken decisions 'which I would not have applied to my children or myself'. Dr Garretta's statement was heard in silence in a courtroom where shouted protests or jeers have become common since the trial opened on 22 June.

The basic allegation against Dr Garretta and his three co-defendants is that they knowingly allowed the distribution of unheated, contaminated blood products to haemophiliacs for a few months in 1985 although safe, heated products were available. Documents produced in evidence show that the transfusion centre favoured using up stocks to save money.

In another development, two lawyers acting on behalf of victims laid a complaint against Laurent Fabius, who was prime minister in 1985, and two of his ministers, for 'poisoning'. All three said in testimony on Friday that they had been unaware of the existence of heated products. If the complaint is ruled acceptable, only the High Court can try them for activities during their time in office.

Haemophiliacs and their families told the court that months had passed without their being informed that they had tested HIV-positive. Edmond-Luc Henry, a 42-year-old infected haemophiliac, said he found out about his condition at the end of 1984, but was not advised to take any precautions. 'Seeing what was in the press, I began to have my doubts,' he said. Mr Henry, along with several others, expressed anger that their cases were part of 'a protocol', a study of the effects of various products on patients.

Some criticised Jean-Pierre Allain, the former director of research at the transfusion centre and now professor of transfusion medicine at Cambridge. Of the defendants, he was the one most in contact with patients and was in charge of the study.

A woman, one of several to ask for their full names to be kept out of press reports, said her husband died last December. She said Dr Allain had kept her husband's condition a secret when he first discovered it. When the family asked him why, 'he said he wanted him to have a good holiday,' she said.

She said her daughter had been taunted by children at school who said she had Aids. Addressing Dr Allain, she said: 'You've got your daughter and you don't care about the rest.'

Pascal, 34, said he would like the defendants 'to come and see me on my deathbed and explain to my little seven-year-old daughter why I am leaving her so brutally when I still have so much love to give her.'