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Verdict Expected
in Canada's Tainted Blood Trial

Verdict Expected
in Canada's Tainted Blood Trial

Three Canadian health officials, a U.S. pharmaceutical company, and one of its senior executives will learn their fate Monday when a judge issues a verdict on charges that they allowed hemophiliacs to contract HIV through tainted blood, a case that has been called the worst public health disaster in Canadian history.

Three Canadian health officials, a U.S. pharmaceutical company, and one of its senior executives will learn their fate Monday when a judge issues a verdict on charges that they allowed hemophiliacs to contract HIV through tainted blood, a case that has been called the worst public health disaster in Canadian history.

The case is the first criminal trial related to the more than 1,000 Canadians who became infected with HIV and up to 20,000 others who contracted hepatitis C after receiving blood transfusions and tainted blood products from Bridgewater, N.J.-based Armour Pharmaceutical Co. in the 1980s and early 1990s. At least 3,000 people have died, and others remain terminally ill.

The charges filed in November 2002 claimed that the accused failed to properly screen blood donors or their blood and then failed to warn the public and the Canadian government about the risks associated with their blood product, Factorate.

The defendants are Dr. Roger Perrault, the former medical director for the Canadian Red Cross; doctors Donald Wark Boucher and John Furesz, former officials at Canada's national Health Protection Branch; and Dr. Michael Rodell, a former vice president of Armour Pharmaceuticals. Each physician pleaded not guilty to criminal negligence and failure to prevent the distribution of Factorate. They face up to 10 years in prison if convicted by the judge.

Armour Pharmaceuticals faces an additional charge of failing to notify Canadian authorities that it continued to market its blood-clotting products for two years after having been told in 1985 that the heating process with which the product was treated would not kill the HIV virus.

''It is one of the worst examples of how the health and safety of hemophiliacs was largely disregarded for some reason,'' said John Plater of the Canadian Hemophilia Society. Plater said this particular case deals with seven people who were infected with HIV after using Factorate and 65 people who were not but were put at risk of infection.

Closing arguments finished in early September, and the verdict in the 18-month trial was to be delivered Monday afternoon by Judge Mary Lou Benotto.

A 1997 inquiry into Canada's tainted blood scandal concluded that many of the infections could have been prevented. Judge Horace Krever said failures among various blood agencies contributed to the tragedy.

The Canadian Red Cross pleaded guilty in 2005 to distributing blood tainted with HIV and hepatitis C and was fined C$5,000 Canadian. The Red Cross apologized and dedicated C$1.5 million) to a scholarship fund and research project aimed at reducing medical errors.

Responsibility for Canada's blood supply for all provinces except Quebec was later transferred from the Canadian Red Cross to Canadian Blood Services. After a five-year investigation, police laid criminal charges in the case.

Last year, the Canadian government announced a C$1-billion Canadian medical compensation package for all those infected with hepatitis C from tainted blood, which expanded a previous package that had excluded thousands. (AP)

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