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Last Updated: Monday, 26 January, 2004, 00:13 GMT
NHS in court over body parts
Alder Hey inquiry
The Alder Hey scandal sparked an inquiry and legislation
Families suing the NHS for removing the body parts of their dead children without consent open their High Court battle on Monday.

Each of more than 2,000 individual claimants wants thousands in compensation for the trauma they suffered after discovering what had happened.

The government is currently introducing new laws to ban the retention of organs without consent in the wake of the Alder Hey scandal.

The families, who come from many different parts of the UK, have already reportedly rejected an offer of 1,000 each from the NHS.

Last year the families of children whose organs were removed at Alder Hey hospital received 5,000 each.

Mervyn Fudge, the solicitor representing 1,500 of the families said: "The only course of action for the parents was through the courts. They want to be able to show that what was done to their loved ones was illegal."

We need to be treated fairly
Ruth Webster
Parent

One of the parents, Ruth Webster, whose baby Ellen's organs were taken by Leeds General Infirmary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the families had no other option than to go to court.

"We need to be treated fairly. Other families in other areas have been offered substantially more than we were offered and it just seems so unfair that they are saying their children were worth more than ours.

"It will not be easy for us. It will be incredibly painful. It is the last thing any of us want."

The scandal at Alder Hey, which came to light in the 1990s, also led to an audit across the health service which had prompted hundreds more families to come forward demanding compensation.

Parents discovered that in some cases, following the death of their children in hospital, the bodies had been returned for burial or cremation minus one or more internal organs.

Occasionally this resulted in a second, or even third, funeral as parents demanded the return of these parts, years after the death of their child.

Legislation

Many institutions, particularly research units, were storing scores of tissue samples dating from decades earlier.

The scandal prompted new legislation designed to make the practice illegal.

Under the Human Tissue Bill currently before Parliament, doctors removing organs without consent could face up to three years in prison.

Usual practice

A spokesman for the NHS Litigation Authority said that such practices were widespread until quite recently.

Research will be regulated by the Act
"The claimants will have to convince the court that the entire medical profession has been acting illegally for the last 40 years," he said.

Health Secretary John Reid said every case could not be treated in the same way as the circumstances were different.

But he added: "We have certainly got a great degree of sympathy and understanding for any parent who finds themselves in this position, which is why we have changed the law.

"Hopefully in the future this can never happen again.

"We should not presume that people's bodies, or those of their children, are available to medical science or the state."


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Glenda Cooper
"The families are saying this case is all about respect"



SEE ALSO:
'My son's brain was taken'
19 Jan 04  |  Health
Q&A: Organ retention court case
19 Jan 04  |  Health
Brain 'theft' laws promised
12 May 03  |  Health
Alder Hey - the time table
30 Jan 01  |  Health


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