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France split on pardons over tainted blood

BMJ 1994; 308 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.308.6924.294 (Published 29 January 1994) Cite this as: BMJ 1994;308:294
  1. A Dorozynski

    France's scientific community is divided over whether President Francois Mitterand should pardon Dr Michael Garetta and Dr Jean Pierre Allain, who were sentenced to prison last year for allowing the distribution in 1985 of blood products that were contaminated with HIV. About 100 French doctors and scientists petitioned the president last week, asking for pardons for the two men. Coincidentally, 33 Nobel prize winners wrote to the president last week asking him to pardon Dr Allain. So far about 400 people have died in France after being given blood products contaminated with HIV.

    Dr Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who with Professor Luc Montagnier and Professor Jean-Claude Chermann discovered HIV, initiated the petition. She worked with Dr Allain in 1984-5 and said that at that time he was preoccupied with the problems of infected blood. “I was deeply shocked, during the first trial, to see a doctor who had strived on those questions accused and condemned eight years later,” she said. Jean-Baptiste Brunet, director of the European AIDS surveillance centre, said, “I have always considered that to put the burden of guilt on four individuals was a real scandal.”

    Montganier and Chermann, however, did not sign the petition. Montagnier was abroad and not available for comment, but Chermann said, “A scientist must be responsible . . . by his acts and his words. . . . Dr Allain is a scientist . . . and he knew that the products were contaminated.”

    The petition by the Nobel prize winners was initiated by Professor Max Perutz of Cambridge, who knew Dr Allain personally. He canvassed fellow Nobel prize winners. Nearly all, he said, agreed to write to President Mitterand. Signatories include five French laureates, 12 Americans, 11 British, two Germans, an Italian, a Belgian, and a Canadian.

    Simone Veil, the minister of social affairs and health, said in a television interview that “justice has spoken. . . . It's up to the president to judge, in his soul and conscience.” She added that “if scientists had made mistakes and admitted it . . . the situation might have been less painful to people who didn't understand what was happening to their child.”

    Dr Jacques Leibowitch, of the Raymond Poincare Hospital in Garches, near Paris, who was one of the first doctors to understand the extent of the contamination, told the national daily newspaper Le Figaro that “signing such a request while victims of the tragedy are dying is the demonstration of extraordinary indecency.” Edmond-Luc Henry, vice president of the Association des Hemophiles (the French association of haemophilic patients), was “shocked but not surprised.” He was aware of the petition that was being circulated in France and had written to Professor Barre-Sinoussi to give his arguments against it. “We've never received a reply,” he said. “There is, in the medical profession, a corporatist spirit that at least partly explains such things.”

    The Elysee Palace made no comment. The presidential pardon, inscribed in the French constitution, is inherited from monarchy and gives the president the right to pardon.

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