Monday, April 18, 2005

The Ministers of Contaminated Blood

Q: What do Simon Upton and Helen Clark have in common?
A: As Ministers of Health they both presided over the Contaminated Blood scandal of the early nineties, and both have since sought to suppress sensitive information about the scandal.


In the early nineties, Clark and Upton decided that technology allowing screening of blood for Hepatitis C would not be used in the New Zealand health system; 250 haemophiliacs were infected and up to 20 people may have died as a result of this decision. Like the Berrymans, the people infected have found it impossible ever since to get justice. And as with the Berryman case, both Labour and National Governments are implicated in the commission and the cover-up.

A story in today's Press reports, "Haemophiliacs who contracted hepatitis C in the bad blood saga have won a chance at compensation, with health officials agreeing to consider a paper outlining a proposed settlement." But there are no guarantees, and as this story reminds us even getting to this stage has not been easy: "Haemophiliacs investigating the "bad blood scandal" of the 1990s have been stymied by a 30-year embargo placed on sensitive documents from Prime Minister Helen Clark's time as health minister."

It seems that the lesson from Watergate has still not been learned here in NZ, i.e., that it was the cover-up that ruined the President, not the break-in. Or maybe they're confident we don't have a Woodward or a Bernstein here to chase the story down. Or a Deep Throat.

Both Clark and Upton have been in denial of their role in the scandal ever since. Clark still suppresses documents about the scandal - why? - what does she have to hide, one wonders? - and when Upton left Parliament for his cushy sinecure with the OECD, he was asked whether he regretted anything in his career as a Minister. "No," he told Radio Pacific News, "nothing gnaws at my soul."

Perhaps he doesn't have one.

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