Two Charged in Hormone Case; New Charges Expected in AIDS Scandal
Jul. 20, 1993
PARIS (AP) _ Already shaken by an AIDS-contaminated blood scandal, France charged two health officials with involuntary manslaughter for distribution of a tainted growth hormone to children.
Nineteen of the treated children have died, officials said.
Meanwhile, a representative of French hemophiliacs announced he planned to file charges against three former Cabinet officials implicated in the scandal involving AIDS-tainted blood transfusions.
Parliament cleared the way for the charges Monday by amending France's constitution to allow anyone - not just lawmakers - to sue for wrongdoing by Cabinet ministers.
Nearly 1,700 children with growth deficiencies were treated in France with the natural growth hormone between 1972 and 1988, receiving three injections a week over five to 12 years.
At least 24 children who received the hormone have been infected with a fatal disease called Creuzfeld Jacob and 19 of them have died, officials said. The disease causes degeneration of the brain and is both difficult to detect and slow to develop.
The children most at risk are those who were injected between 1984 and 1985, when France had yet to put into place a purification process.
A safe, synthetic hormone was used in other countries as early as 1985 but France did not approve it until three years later. In the AIDS scandal, French officials have been accused of blocking approval of a U.S. blood test that could screen for HIV until a French method could be developed.
The hormone scandal broke in December when three families filed charges of involuntary homicide after their children died from the hormone, which is drawn from the pituitary glands of human cadavers.
Tuesday's charges, involving the death of one child, were the first filed by the government.
Charged were Jean-Claude Job, head of a semi-private hormone distribution agency, and Fernand Dray, who ran the laboratory at the government's prestigious Pasteur Institute that processed the hormone.
''Everyone wants this dramatic story to be brought to light,'' Job said in a telephone interview. He denied responsibility, saying his organization halted distribution in April 1985, ''as soon as the threat was identified.''
Job is president of France-Pituitary, which distributed the hormone through public hospitals. The agency's administrative council included representatives of the Health Ministry and other agencies.
Gisele Mor, the lawyer for the family whose son's death brought about the charges, said she would seek to have the investigation widened to include ministry officials.
In the AIDS scandal, Edmond-Luc Henry, vice president of the French Association of Hemophiliacs, promised to file charges against ex-Cabinet officials ''as soon as possible'' after Parliament reconvenes in October.
About 1,200 hemophiliacs received transfusions of blood that health officials knew was tainted with the AIDS virus in 1985. To date 312 have died.
Henry spoke Monday after a special session of Parliament approved constitutional revisions that allow anyone to bring charges against ministers.
There were repeated efforts last year to try three Socialists over the tainted blood scandal: former Premier Laurent Fabius, former Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix and former Deputy Health Minister Edmond Herve.
Critics said the efforts failed because lawmakers were reluctant to charge and try their colleagues. However, the blood scandal helped topple the Socialists from power in March parliamentary elections.
Last Tuesday, an appeals court upheld convictions of four lower officials, including Michel Garretta, the former head of France's national blood bank, who was sentenced to four years in prison.