Tokyo Court Clears Japanese Doctor Accused in HIV-Tainted Blood Product ‘Scandal’
A Tokyo court Wednesday cleared Takeshi Abe, Japan's former top authority on hemophilia and former vice president of Tokyo-based Teikyo University, of criminal responsibility in the AIDS-related death of a man with hemophilia, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reports. Abe had been at the center of a "scandal involving the HIV infection of nearly 1,500 hemophiliacs through the use of unheated blood-clotting agents." Judge Toshio Nagai found Abe not guilty of allowing the use of unheated blood-clotting agents that were tainted with HIV on three different occasions between May and June 1985. Nagai said that at the time, unheated blood products were "lauded for their efficiency in stopping bleeding and causing fewer side effects," adding that no person should be "convicted of professional negligence when merits of medical treatment would offset risk of the method" (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 3/28). Abe's actions should not be called "negligent" because scientists did not know much about AIDS at the time, Nagai said. He added that Abe "understood the dangers of using unheated blood products but could not have known that so many hemophiliacs would be infected" with HIV (BBC News, 3/28). But Jugo Hanai, a representative of hemophiliac patients infected with HIV, said, "The ruling is extremely bad as it takes the lowest common denominator for medical standards. Above all, the ruling rides roughshod over the feelings of patients and their families" (Agence France-Presse, 3/28).
Using Unheated Products
BBC News reports that when Abe served as head of a government panel on AIDS in 1983, he opposed "swift" approval of heat-treated products that other countries were using. Japan's Ministry of Health did not ban unheated products until December 1985, "despite knowing they risked being tainted with HIV" (BBC News, 3/28). Prosecutors maintain that Abe helped delay approval of heated blood products to prevent Japanese pharmaceutical companies -- with large stocks of unheated blood products -- from incurring losses. They added that Abe "must have known the high risk of HIV contamination in unheated blood products" because an American AIDS expert told him in September 1984 that 23 of 48 hemophilia patients who received unheated products had contracted HIV (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 3/28). Abe also was alleged to have "close ties" with Green Cross Corp., a "major" importer of unheated blood-clotting products. Last year, an Osaka court convicted three former heads of the company on charges of professional negligence, finding them guilty of failing to stop sales of blood products from the United States even though they knew that the products risked being HIV-contaminated. A third negligence trial, in which former health ministry official Akihito Matsumura is charged with failing to stop the use of HIV-contaminated blood products, is underway (Agence France-Presse, 3/28).