France Reviews 'Tainted Blood' Case
Jul. 11, 2002
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PARIS (AP) _ Stephane Gaudin, a 15-year-old hemophiliac who received a transfusion with AIDS-tainted blood, died in 1993 _ a year after his 11-year-old brother, Laurent.
His death came during the trial of doctors and officials who allegedly knew that Stephane, his brother and others were getting transfusions with bad blood products.
A decade later, the boys' parents are still mired in a legal battle, trying to find someone to blame for actions that left about 4,000 people infected. Hundreds of the victims have died.
The scandal shook France's public health system in the 1980s and 1990s, but the ensuing lawsuits languished in the courts. Last week, a judge threw out a case against 30 of the defendants, shocking families of victims who likened the action to a pardon. But it was revived after Justice Minister Dominique Perben interceded and his prosecutors lodged an appeal.
Only a promise to Stephane has kept hope alive for the Gaudins.
``Stephane attended the trial in 1993 and he died during the trial,'' said the boys' mother, Agnes Gaudin. ``He asked us to see this through to the end, and we will.''
Agnes and her husband, Patrice, first filed a complaint in 1988, opening the case along with dozens of other families whose relatives, mainly hemophiliacs, were contaminated with blood products tainted with HIV.
``That's 17 years that we've been fighting,'' Agnes Gaudin said in a telephone interview from her home near Grenoble.
Top French officials and health specialists have already been taken to court for failing to order the tainted blood products withdrawn. Most officials had argued that not enough was known about AIDS at the time.
In February 1999, a special court acquitted former Prime Minister Laurent Fabius and Social Affairs Minister Georgina Dufoix on charges of manslaughter in with the scandal. Former Health Minister Edmond Herve was convicted but never punished.
It was the most spectacular of three trials held so far in the scandal.
The three ministers had been linked to the AIDS deaths of five people and the infection of two others in the 1980s.
Agnes Gaudin said she was confident the request for an appeal would be accepted, ``but after that, what will they decide?''
The Court of Cassation, France's highest court, could take six months to respond to the appeal request. Several years could pass before a trial, according to judicial experts.
At a meeting Tuesday with families of victims, the justice minister promised to speed up the process.
Among the 30 people involved in the current case is the former head of the National Blood Transfusion Center, Dr. Michel Garretta, convicted twice, in 1992 and 1993. He is one of but a handful of officials to have served jail terms.
Garretta is among seven of the 30 being pursued on criminal charges, from poisoning to complicity to poison or ``voluntary violence.'' The 23 others are under investigation for misdemeanors such as ``non-assistance to a person in danger.''
The current head of the Renault auto company, Louis Schweitzer, is among the 23. He was the top aide to Prime Minister Fabius at the time.
``The wheels of justice don't turn fast and they don't turn in a circle,'' said Agnes Gaudin. ``I can't say that we have hope, but we're continuing. We're still there.''