Abe pleads not guilty as HIV trial gets under way

Takeshi Abe, the nation’s leading hemophilia expert, pleaded not guilty Mar. 10 to professional negligence in connection with the 1991 death of a hemophiliac.

The victim was infected with HIV through contaminated blood products administered at Teikyo University Hospital in Tokyo under Abe’s supervision. “I offer my deep sympathy (to the deceased), who was once one of our patients,” Abe said. “But I can never be convinced of why I should be a criminal defendant held responsible for his death simply because I was the head of the internal medicine first division. “I have made my utmost efforts for our patients through my life and I have done nothing to be ashamed of as a doctor. I can not die before I clear myself of suspicion.”

It was Abe’s first trial hearing at the Tokyo District Court.

Abe, 80, is the first medical doctor in the country to face criminal charges in connection with the drug-induced disaster, in which nearly 2,000 hemophiliacs were infected with HIV. Prosecutors said that although Abe did not directly administer tainted blood-clotting agents to the patient, he was in the position to decide the hospital’s treatment policy for hemophiliacs.

Between 1971 and 1987, Abe served as the chief of the division, which was responsible for treating patients, including hemophiliacs. The patient, who died of AIDS in December 1991, was given three injections of concentrated, unheated blood coagulants by doctors at the university hospital between May and June 1985, the prosecutors said. However, Abe, who was later promoted to vice president of Teikyo University, denied allegations that he instructed subordinate doctors to give the patient, whose name is being withheld, those coagulants that might be tainted with the virus.

Although Abe was indicted on the charge last Sept. 18, his trial will be of greater significance since he reportedly played a key role in the HIV scandal. The tainted blood products spread the human immunodeficiency virus through about half of the nation’s hemophiliacs. Abe, former head of the Health and Welfare Ministry’s study group on AIDS set up in June 1983, was Japan’s top expert on hemophilia treatment in the early and mid-1980s.