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Monday, 21 February, 2000, 00:16 GMT
Doctor admits organ stripping

van velzen Professor Van Velzen admits use of organs for research


The pathologist at the centre of the child organ-stripping scandal has told the BBC he used organs for research without the permission of the coroner or consent of parents.

Professor Dick Van Velzen maintains that he removed and stored the organs of 845 children at Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool because he did not have the resources from the hospital to carry out detailed post mortem examinations.

He says he hoped to complete the post mortems eventually.



My intention was to skate very close to the letter of the law with only one purpose - to achieve a better situation
Professor Dick Van Velzen
But asked by BBC1's Panorama programme if he did research on organs he took he admits: "We always did research. Everybody does research, but especially when you're an academic pathologist. But in reality we did extremely little research on all those organs."

As well as pathology, Professor Van Velzen was carrying out his own research into cot death in infants. The Coroners Act says that organs cannot be used for research without the coroner's permission, but Professor Van Velzen did not seek it.

'Not misusing'

He insists he was not misusing children's organs in order to progress his own career. "All our published research, 75, 80, 90% of it, has nothing to do with post mortem tissues. 90% of my papers - my best papers have nothing to do with babies' organs.

"My intention was to skate very close to the letter of the law with only one purpose - to achieve a better situation," he added.

Alder Hey Hospital was exposed last September as having retained a very large number of children's organs. But the scandal has touched hospitals across Britain.

Professor Sebastian Lucas, chairman of the Royal College of Pathologists working group on organ retention and a professor of pathology at Guy's Hospital, London, admits to Panorama that organs were "most certainly" retained for research when, strictly speaking, they should not have been.

"It came under the general rubric of 'doctor knows best', that it was not thought needed to explain precisely what went on during a rather unpleasant procedure and to thereby upset relatives and parents.

"The consolation being that we were doing it for the greater good of the public, the individual and the public good, and I suspect we made a philosophical calculation that it was better to keep it that way round than to be too explicit as to exactly what we were doing," he said.

Panorama, BBC1, Monday 21 February, 2200 GMT

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See also:
21 Feb 00 |  Health
Organ stripping: the parents' despair
05 Dec 99 |  Health
Child-organ surgeon 'warned of time-bomb'
04 Dec 99 |  Health
Doctor's 'life of helping children'
21 Dec 99 |  Health
Hospital apologises for organ stripping

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