Anatomy of a Scandal

Posted to NewsTrolls December 29, 1998

Aloof with hermit eye I scan
The present work of present man -
A wild and dreamlike trade of blood and guile
Too foolish for a tear, too wicked for a smile.
- Samuel Taylor Colridge, Ode to Tranquility

The News Troll caught my eye: "Scandal almost causes Canadian Government to Topple." Not having noticed a scandal of such magnitude in Canadian newspapers, I followed the link to Salon's feature article, Blood Money.

Imagine my surprise:

Arkansas' prison-blood business created a health crisis in Canada that nearly brought down the Liberal Party government last spring. At least 42,000 Canadians have been infected with hepatitis C, and thousands more with the HIV virus, thanks to poorly screened plasma.

Why - one wonders - would Salon take such an odd line on the Tainted Blood Scandal (as it has come to be known in Canada). They write:

To date, the scandal has gotten almost no media attention in the United States. While reporters are riveted by the Monica Lewinsky mess, they've ignored a real Clinton scandal, maybe because it involves two groups no one cares much about -- people who aren't Americans, and prisoners.

Salon's article pretends to be a critique of American reporters. It argues that American reporters have ignored a serious crisis because the victims are not Americans. But Salon's real agenda here is to promote another scandal, one it thinks may be traced to Bill Clinton. The Canadian blood crisis is nothing more than a tool, or as Alfred Hitchcock would say, a McGuffin, a plot device used to advance the real agenda.

The coverage in Salon is scandalous, to say the least.

The threat to the Canadian government is wildly exaggerated. At no time were the Chretien Liberals - seated with a comfortable majority in the House of Commons - in danger of falling. While there was widespread criticism of the government, this criticism focused on the compensation process, and not on the fact of the crisis itself. The Liberal government last year (and not last week, as Salon claims) announced billions of dollars in compensation. It was not enough.

The link to Arkansas prisons is minimal. Salon cites the total number of people affected by the crisis. But their sources - the Toronto Star, which exaggerated the figures - are unreliable. Moreover, through careful wording, Salon makes the number seem larger than it is. So let's get the numbers right. The tally, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation summary report, was significant:

The human cost of the blood tragedy was heartbreaking: 1,200 people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS and another 90,000 suffering from Hepatitis C.
These numbers are accepted in all sources (documented below) except the Toronto Star.

It should be noted as well that these numbers are the total of all people infected from all sources. The Canadian Red Cross purchased only a small part of its blood supply; the vast majority is obtained through voluntary donations at Red Cross Clinics. Thus the Hepatitis C Society, in their submission to the Krever Commission (the commission called by the government to investigate the scandal), says nothing about the American penal system. Rather, they focus on more prevalent sources of contamination, such as organ transplants, blood transfusions, and even tattoos.

If anybody is to be blamed, according to the Hepatitis C Society, it is the Red Cross, which did not provide adequate screening. The Canadian government apparently agreed, stripping the Red Cross of its role in the Canadian blood system even before the Krever Report was released. So what caused the blood crisis in Canada? Several factors were at play.

  1. Nobody was reponsible for the overall management of the blood system. As David Harvey summarizes:
    Justice Krever, appointed to head the Commission of Inquiry into the Blood Supply in Canada, has questioned whether it is appropriate to call the blood system a "system" at all; it is unclear who is in charge.
  2. Blood agencies - and particularly the Red Cross - were slow to respond. Harvey again:
    The reaction was denial; the industry refused to believe there was a significant problem. In Canada, where the incidence of AIDS was much lower at the time, the Red Cross reacted similarly. Canadian donors were altruistic volunteers, and the disease was rare. The Red Cross refused to accept that their charitable good works could be affected by something like AIDS. While the US gradually took some steps to prevent HIV from entering the blood supply, the industry in Canada continued to dismiss the problem.
  3. Inability of the Red Cross to respond. Harvey:
    The scope of the problem, and its implications, paralyzed the Red Cross, to whom the federal and provincial governments had delegated their responsibility for protecting the blood supply. The Red Cross was considered the expert of the blood-supply system, and had assured governments that everything was under control.
    Or, in the words of the Krever Commission Report:
    ...in light of what was known at the time about the risk of transfusion associated AIDS and the measures that were available to reduce that risk, was enough done [by the Red Cross]? The answer is no. (Volume 1, Page 296)
    And later:
    The Red Cross was a tentative and ineffective decision maker that recoiled from its responsibility to make timely decisions on matters of safety. (Volume 1, page 330)

In response to the blood crisis, most advocates, including Krever, called for a reorganization of the Canadian blood supply. Nobody was calling on the Canadian government to resign over this matter. For one thing, the events took place during the tenure of the previous administration. And for another, Canadian politicians were much more interested in how to compensate victims than they were about punishing governments. Nova Scotia house member George Moody's motion of December 1, 1997, serves as an example of this:

Therefore be it resolved that this Liberal Government immediately negotiate a fair and just settlement with hepatitis C victims tainted by Canada's deadly blood system and, further, that it acknowledge that the excuses it has used to date are an insult to the intelligence of Nova Scotians who want and expect their government to be accountable, just and compassionate.

Or, as the Canadian AIDS Society summarizes:

The report concludes with recommendations on the future of the blood system. Krever calls for a new independent agency to manage the blood system. He recommends a no-fault compensation scheme for those harmed by the blood system. He also calls on the federal government to immediately address the woefully inadequate ability of the Health Protection Branch to regulate the blood system properly and to ensure the safety of blood and blood products.
The story, argues Salon, is now becoming news only because of the many lawsuits which have arisen over the matter. They write:
More than 20,000 tainted-blood victims with hepatitis C filed a class-action suit against the Canadian government, alleging that sloppy screening protocols allowed tainted blood products from Arkansas prisons and elsewhere to make their way into Canada.... Now, more than a decade later, those old Arkansas scandals are getting new attention, thanks to lawsuits and agitation in Canada.

The only remaining lawsuit, handled by the firm of Klein Lyons, represents about 500 Hepatitis C victims and was launched in November of 1997. The suit

demands that the Red Cross as well as the federal and provincial governments pay for their negligence in failing to test the blood supply for the Hepatitis C virus.... Klein Lyons is continuing to fight for the rights of both pre-86 and post-86 victims. We feel the governments should add more money to the package and include all the victims.

Moreover, the suit does not mention Arkansas at all. Indeed, such a reference would run counter to their central argument. As Klein Lyons states,

Tests for the virus were used by several U.S. blood collection agencies, including all blood banks in New York State, as early as 1982 and in some European countries such as Germany, as far back as 1968. The Red Cross did not begin testing blood in Canada until July 1990.
In other words, the Red Cross was at fault because it did not begin testing even while other agencies were already testing. A claim that a state agency - knowingly or otherwise - would ship tainted blood to Canada would undermine their central argument.

So Salon misrepresents the lawsuit in three ways. First, it misrepresents the number of litigants, confusing the number of people who contracted Hepatitis C with the number of people pursuing legal action. In fact, most sufferers accepted the Federal compensation package. Second, it misrepresents the timing of the lawsuit, which began more than a year ago, and not "recently". And third, it misrepresents the nature of the lawsuit, which says nothing whatsoever about Arkansas or even about shipments of blood products from the United States in general.

Probing into the depths of the Salon article, we find the 'smoking gun':

Several prisoners who had previously tested positive for hepatitis B were allowed to donate blood at Cummins, and the tainted units had been sold by HMA to Cryosan. Cryosan in turn sold the plasma to corporations in Switzerland, Spain, Japan and Italy, as well as to Toronto-based Connaught Laboratories, which pooled the plasma with other blood products needed by hemophiliacs to make their blood clot, and sold the blood throughout Canada.

It was only then, during the crisis over the recall, that the Canadians learned they were buying plasma collected from prison inmates. "The shipping papers accompanying the plasma had not revealed that the centre was located in a prison," the Krever commission report revealed. "They had simply referred to the source as the 'ADC Plasma Center, Grady, Arkansas,' without any indication that 'ADC' stood for 'Arkansas Department of Corrections.'"

But the point raised by Krever has nothing to do with the source of the blood. The incident points to the lack of attention paid by the Red Cross to blood safety. Rather, the Red Cross was much more interested in expanding its operations. As the Toronto Globe and Mail reported in 1995:
The two organizations fought about who should make blood products for hemophiliacs, said Alun Davies and William Cochrane, both ex-officials at Connaught Laboratories Ltd. Lawyers representing HIV-infected Canadians have claimed that the CRC and Connaught spent more time fighting over who should manufacture blood plasma than increasing the blood supply's safety. At the public inquiry into the country's tainted blood scandal of the 1980s, Davies and Cochrane presented their side of the story, testifying that the disputes began in 1976 when the CRC decided it did not want Connaught supplying its blood products anymore and began pushing for its own blood-processing plant.
The Red Cross's compaint with Connaught? The company was "wasting too much blood".

What the Salon article does not show, and what Krever does not find, is that tainted blood from Arkansas inmates found its way into the Canadian blood supply. At most, Salon shows that some infected inmates sold blood to a company, that this company sold blood to another company, which in turn used the blood to manufacture vaccines for distribution to Canadians.

Let us turn now to Salon's basic research: a work of fiction called Blood Trail:

Galster used the pseudonym Michael Sullivan to write "Blood Trail," a thinly veiled fictional account of tainted blood in the Arkansas prison system. In Canada, the book has become a bestseller and fueled more investigations into Cummins.
As the book's home page suggests, Blood Trail "may be the next piece of evidence subpoenaed by Ken Starr!"

In fact, all of Salon's allegations are derived from this source. The factual base for the article - including some of the quotes used by Salon - may be found in the September 11 edition of The Ottawa Citizen. The article, HIV blood came from Arkansas jail, states:

This month, a new book, Blood Trail, is being released in Canada and the U.S. It is a novel, and its Illinois publisher is carefully taking the usual legal precaution to declare in the book that if any characters in this "work of fiction" bear resemblance to real people, it is "purely coincidental."
By the time the story reached the pages of the New York Post, the work of fiction had become fact:
Then, The Ottawa Citizen reports: "A U.S. firm with links to U.S. President Bill Clinton, collected HIV-tainted blood from Arkansas prison inmates in the 1980s and shipped it to Canada, newly uncovered documents revealÂ…Â…Â…It is likely that several hundred, perhaps thousands, were infected by the tainted products."

There is no evidence, by the way, that the book has become a bestseller in Canada (see the lists, below), nor that it has fuelled any further enquiries into the tainted blood scandal - these claims appear to be more fiction on the part of Salon.

The Salon article concludes with a quote from an affected Canadian:

In Canada, Michael McCarthy, a hepatitis C sufferer from Stratford, Ontario, is understandably bitter. "I think it is devastating to the victims of the blood disaster in Canada," says McCarthy, who is married with one child and can no longer work thanks to third stage liver failure. "It shows it wasn't God that was running the blood system. It was people who were making bad decisions based on money."
In Canada, McCarthy, Chair of Hemophilia Ontario's Hepatitis C Task Force, was widely quoted, especially from the demo press releases distributed to promote International Hemophelia Day.

There is no doubt that the tainted blood scandal is a genuine tragedy, one which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Canadians and affected the lives of many thousands more. Politicians, media commentators, and common citizens have all expressed their grief and sorrow, and the compensation, generous though it was, can never be enough for those afflicted.

To see this tragedy played before the American populace as yet another anti-Clinton story is a travesty, one which trivializes the victims' plight at best, and undermines the serious and controversial issues at the very least.

The Salon coverage of this story is disgraceful. They get their facts wrong, lift quotes without attribution from news sources, distort and misrepresent information, base their hard data on a work of fiction, and simply make up additional information.

There is no genuine concern for the victims here. For all Salon's authors could care, they may as well be living in India and be afflicted with bad hair. The tainted blood scandal is, to them, nothing more than a device, a McGuffin used to advance their own agenda, and promote their own site. Shame on them.


Read the full chronology of the 'scandal' here.

Salon's article, "Blood Money", is located at http://www.salon1999.com/news/1998/12/cov_23news.html.

The Krever Report is located at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/english/krever/. Note that the entire 1138 pages - available in .pdf format - will take some time to download.

The Hepatitis C Society of Canada submission to the Krever Commission is located at http://web.idirect.com/~hepc/krever/main.html . Frames are required to view this HTML document.

George Moody's resolution is recorded in Hansard (Hansard is the name for minutes of the Canadian Parlament). See http://www.gov.ns.ca/legi/hansard/han56-6/i97dec01.htm#[Page 492].

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation summary report is located at http://radio.cbc.ca/news/krever/. This page in addition contains links to dozens of related radio reports in Real Audio format, documenting CBC coverage of the Krever Report through 1997 and 1998.

David Harvey's article, David, Goliath and HIV-Infected Blood, is located at http://www.odyssee.net/~jujube/elements/BL08HARVEY2.html. Harvey's article was printed in the Canadian HIV/AIDS Policy & Law Newsletter 1996; 2(2).

The Canadian AIDS Society's Advocacy Report may be found at http://www.cdnaids.ca/1-4-3-9e.html. The Society's home page is at http://www.cdnaids.ca/.

The Hemophelia Ontario site is located at http://hemont.wwonline.com/index.htm. Their summary of the Krever Report is found at http://hemont.wwonline.com/krever.htm.

The Klein Lyons update page is located at http://www.kleinlyons.com/pages/Newsletter/newsletter.htm. More information on the Hepatitis class action lawsuit may be found at http://www.kleinlyons.com/pages/Newsletter/May/hepatitis_c.htm. For more on the lawsuit, see also http://www.canoe.ca/InDepthBlood/jul25_bloodtrial.html.

The Connaught Laboratories home page is http://www.connaught.com/.

Red Cross and Lab Fought for Blood Supply. Globe and Mail, August 29, 1995. http://hivinsite.ucsf.edu/ads/9508/95083005.html

"Blood Trail". Published in October, 1998. Purchase at http://www.opengroup.com/open/fibooks/091/0915463849.shtml. The book's home page is http://www.bloodtrail.com/.

HIV blood came from Arkansas jail, The Ottawa Citizen, September 11, 1998. http://members.tripod.com/~taintedbloodscandal/blood2.html.

New novel probes Bill Clinton's possible role in Canada's Red Cross Scandal. The Toronto Sun, October 4, 1998. http://members.tripod.com/~taintedbloodscandal/blood1.html.

The Tainted Blood Mystery http://members.tripod.com/~taintedbloodscandal/blood3.html. Maggie Gallagher, The New York Post, possibly September 26, 1998.

These three articles are reprinted on the website, Tainted Blood Scandal, http://members.tripod.com/~taintedbloodscandal/, a Tripod page authored by an unnamed person known only by the email address bgmcdonald@netscape.net.

Bestsellers list from the Canadian Booksellers' Association may be found at http://www.cbabook.org/bestsell2.html. Put-it-on-the-Web, with Amazon, reports their list on http://www.putitontheweb.net/books/canada.html.

McCarthy's Demo Press Release may be found at http://hemont.wwonline.com/media.htm. For another McCarthy quote, see http://www.tv.cbc.ca/newsinreview/feb98/krever/pubreact.htm. McCarthy is a 39 year old nurse from London (not Stratford), Ontario, as this quote in Mclean's Magazine shows. http://www.macleans.ca/newsroom120897/can5120897.html.

The McGuffin. http://www.english.uiuc.edu/104/northwest/reel5/29712.htm


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