The Gift of Death: Confronting Canada's Tainted Blood Tragedy


278 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-00-255415-1
DDC 362.1'784'0971




Reviewed by Susan Massarella

Susan Massarella is a reference librarian at the Laurentian University.


Between 1980 and 1990, at least 1200 Canadians (40 percent were
hemophiliacs) were infected with HIV after receiving contaminated blood
products. Globe and Mail reporter André Picard argues in this book that
many of the resulting deaths were due to “malicious inertia” on the
part of public-health officials. The Canadian blood system he portrays
is a bureaucratic nightmare made up of the Red Cross, the Canadian Blood
Agency, and the federal and provincial ministries of health. In
Picard’s view, the complexity of the system is partly to blame for the
failure of officials to quickly implement a plan to screen donors, to
reduce all unnecessary blood transfusions, and to switch to safer blood
products even after the appearance of evidence that HIV is blood-borne.

Providing a background to the current crisis are histories of the Red
Cross, blood production, and the treatment of hemophilia. The author has
also included testimonies of the affected families and a handy
chronology of events detailing blood use in Canada, from the opening of
the first peacetime blood donor clinic in Toronto in 1940 to the
deadline for the final report of the Commission of Inquiry on the Blood
System in Canada in 1995.

The Gift of Death tends to gloss over arguments that do not support
Picard’s point of view. Furthermore, the bulk of the research for his
book comes from newspaper articles, including a series on the
tainted-blood tragedy that Picard wrote with Rod Mickleburgh.
Nevertheless, public libraries should order this book because it
provides one of the first commentaries on the blood crisis.


Picard, André., “The Gift of Death: Confronting Canada's Tainted Blood Tragedy,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 12, 2024,