Lawsuits are set to obstruct Canada's blood inquiry

BMJ 1996; 312 doi: (Published 17 February 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;312:398
  1. David Spurgeon

    Canada's inquiry into contaminated blood products looks likely to be delayed by legal action. Organisations and individuals, alerted by the head of the inquiry that his report might contain findings of wrongdoing on their part, have taken legal action to prevent this from happening.

    Mr Justice Horace Krever's report is due next September, but it seems certain to be delayed by more than 40 legal actions. The president of the Canadian Haemophilia Society claims that the lawsuits could prevent the truth from emerging about why more than 1200 haemophilic patients and transfusion recipients contracted HIV infection between 1980 and 1985. A further 12000 people were infected with the hepatitis C virus between 1980 and 1990.

    Those bringing suit claim that Mr Krever is acting beyond his mandate, which was to determine what went wrong in the blood system. But his notification to them was made under the requirements of the Inquiries Act to give them a chance to respond to potential findings of wrongdoing.

    The plaintiffs include the Canadian Red Cross, the federal government (which set up the blood inquiry), pharmaceutical companies, and every province except Saskatchewan.

    More than 70 allegations are made against senior officials of the Canadian Red Cross, including its former head, George Weber, who is now secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies in Geneva.

    Weber, who was Canada's top Red Cross official between 1983 and 1993, is alleged to have failed adequately to “oversee, direct, and provide resources” for blood transfusion and donor recruitment services. He says, in an affidavit aimed at preventing Krever from making such charges part of his report, that they “could seriously damage my career and future employment prospects.”—DAVID SPURGEON, freelance journalist, Quebec

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