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Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 October, 2004, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
Alder Hey report 'harmed science'
Debate over organ retention has been stifled, says the King's Fund
Organ retention has been demonised by the Alder Hey report to the detriment of medical science, a study by a health think tank says.

The Alder Hey report was published in January 2001 after organs were taken from dead children at the Liverpool hospital without parental consent.

But the King's Fund study, published in the Journal of Medical Ethics, said it lacked clarity and was too emotive.

The Department of Health said the Alder Hey report helped debate.

The King's Fund study identified several key failings and it said the Alder Hey report implied organ retention was wrong when it was important to research.

It criticised the report for concentrating on the historical tradition of horror surrounding organ retention, for placing too much emphasis on redressing past wrongs and being confused over the notion of respect for organs.


It said policy makers had been left grappling with the issue of organ retention ever since.

Report author Steve Dewar, director of health policy at the King's Fund, told BBC News Online debate and policy had been slowed by the report.

He acknowledged it was a difficult subject to deal with at the time, but said the report concentrated on addressing the wrongs to the detriment of the public interest.

"It should also have looked at the future public interest and been more constructive.

The report in to the organ retention scandal at Alder Hey Hospital
The report was published in January 2001

"The point we are trying to make is that inquiries can address the issue of wrong-doing while also dealing with what should be done in the future and what policies are needed."

The inquiry recommended changing the consent laws and allowing families to set up a "life book" to give medical students details of the donor's life so that they were not dehumanised.

The findings of the report in January 2001 helped shape the Human Tissue Bill, which is currently working its way through Parliament.

The bill was originally criticised by the medical community, which feared there would be a shortage of human organs for research because of the proposed toughening of consent laws.

The proposals have since been relaxed.

'Lacked balance'

Tony Bell, chief executive of the Alder Hey hospital trust, said he agreed it had slowed debate but that that debate was happening now.

"The report did focus on individual incidents," he said.

"That was probably appropriate but it did not pay much attention to systems issues and policy on a national level.

"I do think it was at times anecdotal and lacked balance."

Pity II, a retained organs campaign group, declined to comment until it had read the full report.

But Michael Redfern, who headed the Alder Hey inquiry, dismissed the accusations, saying the report's recommendations still allowed medical research to continue.

"In theory, doctors, researchers and educationalists should be able to satisfy their needs for organs and tissue as long as they obtain fully informed consent from patients."

The Department of Health said the Alder Hey report had led to "widespread public debate" and consultation involving professional, research and family groups which had led to the Human Tissue Bill.

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