Jail term demand in HIV-blood case

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The Independent Online
A FRENCH prosecutor yesterday requested a four-year prison sentence for the former head of France's blood transfusion service for his role in distributing blood products tainted with HIV. Michele Bernard-Requin said there were no extenuating circumstances for Michel Garretta, who was director general of the National Blood Transfusion Centre in 1985 when unsafe products were given to haemophiliacs although safe, heated products had become available.

Dr Garretta is on trial for fraud for distributing products he knew to be dangerous. The four-year sentence and a FF500,000 ( pounds 50,000) fine the prosecutor requested was the maximum penalty. The prosecutor said Dr Garretta and his head of research, Jean-Pierre Allain, had behaved like 'the worst sort of merchants', treating people 'as clients rather than patients, like shopkeepers'.

The prosecutor asked for a four-year suspended sentence and a FF100,000 fine for Dr Allain, who is now the professor of transfusion medicine at Cambridge. She asked for a four-year suspended sentence for Professor Jacques Roux, the former director general of health and two years suspended for Robert Netter, who was head of the National Health Laboratory. They are both charged with non-assistance to persons in danger.

Mrs Bernard-Requin, in her summary, said the four defendants had been charged because, of the many doctors involved, they had known what was happening and could have done more than most to prevent it. She painted Dr Garretta, 48, as a man consumed with ambition who controlled all around him, giving 'the impression of puppets on strings, all between his hands'.

Dr Allain, she said, 'knew the best and knew the earliest the reality of the danger . . . he was the first to know, he knew everything better than anyone'. Dr Allain shook his head. Dr Roux, she said, could have resigned his post to bring attention to the scandal while Dr Netter had tried to take the situation in hand until he was gripped by 'an inexplicable paralysis' in the crucial months of 1985 before unheated products were withdrawn.

She said, however, that the four men should not be considered responsible for all the 1,200 French haemophiliacs who have been infected by HIV which can develop into the disease Aids. It was difficult to determine who had been infected in the early years of Aids when there was no way of screening or treating blood, she said, and who had been infected in the six months when the transfusion service, reluctant to destroy expensive stocks, continued to distribute unheated material.

The summing-up by defence lawyers begins on Monday.