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Monday, 30 July, 2001, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Inquiry into brain 'stripping'
Brain
Some brains are kept for academic research
Ministers have ordered an inquiry into why researchers kept the brain from the body of a suicide victim without his family's consent.

The investigation will be carried out by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Dr Jeremy Metters, one of the country's most senior doctors.

It will examine concerns that the retention of brains may have been standard practice in psychiatric hospitals or care homes for mentally disabled people.

The inquiry was ordered by Health Secretary Alan Milburn after a campaign by Elaine Isaacs and her paediatrician son Austin.

Mrs Isaacs learned last year that hospital authorities in Manchester had removed the brain of her husband Cyril after he committed suicide in 1987 following treatment for severe depression.

Dr Jeremy Metters
The inquiry will be led by Dr Jeremy Metters
The brain was deemed not to be useful for research, and was kept on a shelf until it was incinerated in 1993.

Mrs Isaacs only found out what had happened by accident.

The details were revealed by chance during an unrelated General Medical Council investigation into her husband's GP.

Answerphone message

After a three month investigation a pathologist left a message on her answerphone confirming her husband's brain had been retained.

The family were particularly upset because they are strict Jews and religious law requires that the body is buried intact.

There are nearly 24,000 human brains in hospitals and medical schools, but it's not known how many were removed with consent.

A spokeswoman for Mind the mental health charity, said "We know this isn't an isolated case, but we don't know who and where the others are."

A Department of Health spokeswoman told BBC News Online: "There was a meeting between Mrs Isaacs and the Chief Medical Officer at which it was agreed there would be an investigation.

"The terms of reference are being worked out, and will then be agreed with the family."

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