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BBC's Simon Jones reports
"The hospital said it was acting within recommended guidelines"
 real 28k

Saturday, 15 January, 2000, 02:17 GMT
New row at organ scandal hospital

Alder Hey: Still taking samples from dead children

A hospital is still taking tissue samples from dead children's bodies without parental consent, it has emerged.

Alder Hey Children's Hospital on Merseyside has confirmed that microscopic samples are being taken from dead infants, babies and foetuses.

Last month the hospital apologised for taking hearts, brains and other body parts from more than 800 children's bodies without seeking permission from their parents.

This is a technical procedure which is usually carried out at all post-mortem examinations
Alder Hey Royal Liverpool Children's NHS Trust
They were removed by pathologist Professor Dick van Velzen from children who died between 1988 and 1995, and stored in a cellar.

It has since emerged that staff have been taking samples from these organs, as they begin returning them for burial.

And they have not been seeking the permission of parents before doing so.

In a statement, the hospital said the samples were necessary "in case future questions should arise concerning a child's death".

"This is a technical procedure which is usually carried out at all post-mortem examinations," it said. "The Royal College of Pathology recommends that these tissues should be retained for at least 10 years.

Most hospitals have now halted the practice of organ retention
"The trust would only be prepared to leave this procedure incomplete where this was specifically requested by parents having taken appropriate advice," it said.

Parents would also have to understand that "the hospital was unable to answer any further clinical questions relating to the child's case".

But some parents said they should have been asked.

Bill and Denise Green, whose baby son William died in 1994, said the revelations had "rekindled the outrage and horror" they had felt on learning about the original removals.

This is indicative of the way the trust has acted towards the parents
Joan Wheeler of Alder Hey parents' support group
Joan Wheeler, chairwoman of Alder Hey parents' support group Pity II, said many parents may not have been aware of the procedures carried out before organs were returned for burial.

"This is indicative of the way the trust has acted towards the parents," said Mrs Wheeler, whose son Karl died in 1972 when he was 11 days old.

"Not only have they taken the organs in the first place, retained them, stockpiled them in a laboratory and done research on them.

"Now it has emerged that they have added insult to injury by taking slides from the organs. We say they have done that surreptitiously and behind our back," she said.

Inquiries underway

The previous scandal arose partly because parents had not fully understood that in giving consent for a post-mortem to be held, they were consenting to the organs being kept.

Before the Alder Hey row, hospitals across the country routinely retained organs for tissue research. It is estimated that 11,000 child hearts had been removed for this purpose.

Most hospitals have now halted the practice, giving rise to concern that medical research could be hampered.

An inquiry into the Alder Hey affair has been launched by health secretary Alan Milburn, while England's chief medical officer Professor Liam Donaldson is investigating the whole issue of organ retention.

Both reports are due to be completed by March.

Change in cremation law

The government announced on Saturday that rules on cremating body parts are to be changed to help the parents of children whose organs have been retained by hospitals.

Under the change, due to take effect next month, families will be able to cremate hearts and other organs removed during post mortems, sometimes long after the rest of the body has been disposed of.

At present, the law forbids the cremation of separate body parts if the rest of the body has been buried.

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See also:
21 Dec 99 |  Health
Hospital apologises for organ stripping
 |  Health
Cremation laws changed to help grieving parents
27 Dec 99 |  Health
Patients demand 'treatment as humans'
22 Dec 99 |  Wales
Organ row will hit research warning
03 Dec 99 |  Health
Organ stripping: The reaction
04 Dec 99 |  Health
Organ laws may be tightened

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