8th April 1921 - 14th November 1999

By Michael Baumgartner

Continuum Autumn 2000

Alfred Hassig

One of the early leading voices of AIDS dissent died on November 14th 1999 after several months of illness. Besides being a generous benefactor of organisations such as Continuum, Meditel Productions and the International Forum for Accessible Science, and a devoted AIDS-dissenter, Alfred Hässig accomplished more than many can aspire to. Let us give some time here to honour his life. A life that has touched many. A life that ended too early. A life, shortened according to many by the tragic court case brought upon him in his later days.

Alfred Hässig's life was that of dedication. In his professional career he was dedicated to building up and developing the Swiss Red Cross (SRC) Blood Transfusion Service and its Central Laboratory in Bern (ZLB). He strongly influenced immuno-haematology and other fields of medicine in Switzerland and abroad.

He was a circumspect doctor and scientist. His life-work was the one of a doctor, a scientist and an entrepreneur. As a young assistant doctor at the Institute of Hygienics at Zürich University he followed a call in 1949 from Bern to become the head of the Bacteriological and Serological Department of the newly founded ZLB. In 1955 he became its director and in 1961 he became unsalaried lecturer for immunology, essentials on transfusion and forensic serology at the University of Bern.

Alfred was a successful pioneer. The first move was to build up a modern blood-group serology with the aim to avoid and to treat jaundice (hepatitis) of newly born children. The first pastorizable and thus hepatitis-safe plasma protein product was developed in 1954. This treatment for people with haemophilia has been adopted by several European blood donation centres. It was greatly appreciated by the people with haemophilia as it offered them a life-saving treatment for their illness.

An important ethical principle in Hässig's professional life was the non-remunerated nature of blood-donations, an idea which was not, at the time, taken for granted in many countries, including Switzerland. For this issue, ZLB recruited unpaid blood donors and made them available to hospital blood banks, on condition that they became members of the SRC Blood Transfusion Service and no longer relied on paid donations. Within a few years, non-remunerated blood donation had been introduced throughout the country.

As a representative of Switzerland in the Council of Europe, the World Health Organisation and the Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies he successfully helped promote unpaid blood donation in other countries. In the 1950s and 70s, the recommendations of these international bodies were - unlike today - mainly based on ethical considerations.

The introduction of routine blood screening tests in 1970 made clear that paid donors were more frequently infected with transfusion-relevant infectious pathogens than unpaid donors, and that products from paid plasma sources thus carried a greater risk.

His successful international engagement in support of unpaid blood donation was met with considerable animosity from the emerging profit oriented plasma product industry. Death threats, family life interruptions by anonymous phone calls and attempted bribery from those who wanted to benefit from human suffering were the consequences. Hässig would not bend, putting altruism before profiteering.

In 1962 Hässig was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize. In 1966 he became professor of immunopathology, transfusion medicine and forensic serology at the University of Bern. From 1974 to 78, he was president of the German Society of Transfusion Medicine and Immunohaematology, and from 1982 to 84 he presided over the International Society of Blood Transfusion.

Upon his retirement from the ZLB he founded in 1986 together with colleagues Kurt Stampfli and Hannes Cottier the Study Group for Nutrition And Immunity in Bern. As an independent team they investigated and addressed fundamental questions relating to the influence of nutrition on ageing and old age disease such as arteriosclerosis, as well as immunity and cancer.

During the last few years Hässig started to have doubts about certain aspects of conventional allopathic medicine. A reputable scientist who once was a treating physician himself he understood that the increasing technocratic medicine had - despite great achievements in heroic medicine - sadly little to offer when it comes to actually successfully treating diseases. He started to worry about wrong targets or incorrect decisions taken by doctors as well as the pharmaceutical industries.

Unfortunately these years were overshadowed by legal proceedings. He found himself being accused of 'manslaughter in second degree' and 'careless behaviour in a position of responsibility' by four 'HIV positive' haemophiliacs. This case brought against him in 1993 had been provoked by the pharmaceutical industries. It hit hard and made him turn his attention to AIDS. The reduction of the infectious risk and the well-being of people with haemophilia had been one of his central concerns throughout his life. The accusation of 'manslaughter in second degree' was soon dropped. He was found guilty of 'careless behaviour in a position of responsibility' in 1998, despite lack of evidence. It was not only a rather controversial but also political judgement. Only after his death he was sentenced for two years on probation. He died heart broken before the Federal Court confirmed this rather political judgement upon appeal this year.

Alfred Hässig has always been a very conscientious and far-sighted doctor and a socially inclined patron. One could call him the father of blood transfusions in Switzerland. Medicine owes him great respect and full appreciation.

In 1988 Alfred Hässig met Karl Lutz the founder of PADMA, a company specialising in Tibetan Medicine and Felix DeFries founder of the Study Group for AIDS Therapies. At a time when challenging the AIDS-dogma was a lonely endeavour met with even greater hostility than today, they alerted affected people to the dangers of early AZT treatments and subsequent toxic drugs. Alfred was appalled by the death sentence given by AIDS doctors to already vulnerable people. This unfortunately today common sort of mal-practice made him look into non-aggressive therapeutic models in AIDS. He put together important information on treating immune deficiency with natural medicine. Many of his powerful investigative publications on AIDS, suggesting non-harmful treatments were published in CONTINUUM.

Vivid is the memory when a gay man affected by AIDS called the office to tell Alfred, that he considers him to have saved his life by breaking the deadly spell hanging over the heads of labelled people. Indeed, when ever asked to speak on the misrepresentation of AIDS and in support of people living with a positive 'HIV' test result he would do so nationally and internationally. His office became a meeting point for radical thinkers and a refuge for people living with a 'HIV' positive test result. How many have survived, possibly thanks to Alfred Hässig's work, history will tell.

Due to a mutual sponsor of his work and my studies, Alfred and I met in the early 90s. He encouraged me when leaving my job to follow my calling, starting to work on the human rights side of the AIDS disaster. His office became IFAS' first home. His gentle spirit and inspiration and the quality of his work is greatly missed by his sixteen colleagues.

Besides initially helping to establish the Swiss AIDS Foundation, Hässig generously supported financially over several years several AIDS-dissident organsiations amongst them Meditel Productions, Continuum and IFAS. He was proud to be part of a movement combining such a diversity of individuals. He enjoyed relaxed social moments just as much as the sometimes heated debates, something he saw at risk of extinction in modern scientific progress.

Alfred Hässig died at the age of seventy eight. He is survived by his sister, his three children and five grand-childern. He will be remembered by his many friends and colleagues. Concerned about the people at risk of iatrogenic (medically induced) death, he had asked me before his death, if I would continue this, our work. The people affected are not safe yet, the AIDS-war is not over yet. My answer was 'Yes'. This commitment remains.

Thank you, Alfred

Thanks to Kurt Stampfli, Felix DeFries, Andreas Morell, Hans, Lena and Marietta Hässig and Hans Wirz.