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Opening Statements Begin In AIDS Transfusion Trial

July 28, 1986

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A blood bank that provided contaminated blood given to a woman who died of AIDS was more concerned about profits than patients, an attorney for the victim’s family said Monday.

″Irwin (Memorial Blood Bank) was concerned that if it began to publicize the AIDS threat of the high risk group, it would lose donors ... which would cut down on the amount of blood it could sell and the amount of profit,″ said attorney Fred G. Meis, representing the family of Frances Borchelt.

Mrs. Borchelt, 72, died on June 17, 1985, almost two years after receiving blood transfusions during elective hip surgery. Her husband Robert filed a $2 million lawsuit blaming the San Francisco blood bank, the Medical Society of San Francisco and Seton Medical Center in Daly City for his wife’s death.

Orthopedists Clifford Raisbeck and Charles Owen and anesthesiologist Gordon Clees also were named in the suit.

Acquired immune deficiency syndrome, first recognized in 1981, can be spread through infected blood and other bodily fluids and often strikes homosexual and bisexual men and intravenous drug users who share infected needles.

As early as 1982, Meis said, blood bank officials became aware AIDS could be spread through blood transfusions from high-risk groups that included sexually active homosexual men.

But he said the blood bank, which provides blood to at least 45 Northern California hospitals, was negligent in its blood screening process.

He said a test developed during that period could have been used to detect the AIDS virus in donated blood, but that the blood bank did not use that test because it was too expensive.

Meis said the blood bank’s donors were supposed to fill out questionnaires regarding their medical histories so blood from high-risk groups would not be taken. But he said the card from ″Donor C,″ whose blood was given to Mrs. Borchelt, was not properly completed. The man was later identified as a homosexual who had had at least 50 sexual partners a year.

Attorney Duncan Barr, representing the blood bank, countered that there were no effective tests for AIDS at the time, and that the only real hope of eliminating the virus from donated blood was if high-risk volunteer donors did not give blood.

Barr said ″Donor C″ had originally told the blood bank he was not a member of a high-risk group. He said the blood bank found out that he was a homosexual only after Mrs. Borchelt contracted AIDS and the blood was traced.

He said the bank did not do the test for AIDS suggested by Meis because it was ″ridiculously expensive″ and had not been proven effective.

″Everything Irwin did was not only within the standard of care of the time, but it went beyond the standard of care ... They were a leader,″ Barr said.

Meis also said that during Mrs. Borchelt’s surgery, the anesthesiologist gave her the transfusion needlessly because she only lost about 750 cubic centimeters of blood, not enough to require a transfusion.

Attorney David Lynch, representing Raisbeck and Owen, said she lost about 1,900 cubic centimeters of blood, or about 35 to 40 percent of her total volume.