BBC NEWS
BBCi CATEGORIES   TV   RADIO   COMMUNICATE   WHERE I LIVE   INDEX    SEARCH 

BBC News UK Edition
 You are in: Health: Background Briefings: The Bristol heart babies  
News Front Page
World
UK
England
N Ireland
Scotland
Wales
UK Politics
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
Background Briefings
Medical notes
Education
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
CBBC News
SERVICES
-------------
EDITIONS
The Bristol heart babies Thursday, 23 September, 1999, 16:06 GMT 17:06 UK
Organ scandal doctors 'presumed too much'
coffins
Some parents only found out after the inquiry was launched
Doctors who took the hearts of children who had died during surgery "presumed too much", a leading doctor has said.

The Bristol Heart Babies
Professor Robert Anderson of Great Ormond Street Hospital, London, was giving evidence to the public inquiry into child heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary.

The inquiry is also investigating the routine retention of hearts and other organs for educational purposes.

Earlier in the week, parents of children who died at Bristol spoke of their horror when they discovered - in some cases years after their children's deaths - that doctors had taken organs without seeking their consent.

The inquiry had already heard that the UK's hospitals hold more than 11,000 hearts - the majority of which were retained without parental consent.

Doctors' rights versus parents' concern

Richard Lissack, counsel for the Bristol Heart Children's Action Group, read a statement from Professor Anderson, who is professor of paediatric cardiac morphology at Great Ormond Street.

Professor Anderson said pathologists "presumed much too much when we made our collections".

Mr Lissack said: "The presumption he was alluding to was that of the medical profession as to the right to merely take organs from the dead as and when they wanted."

He said the real shock parents had experienced at discovering what had happened came not from the fact the organs had been kept, but that they had not been consulted.

'Grey area'

Professor Peter Berry, paediatric pathologist at the United Bristol Healthcare Trust since 1983, had shown that in the 12 years to 1995 - the years under review at the inquiry - 265 children died following heart surgery at the hospital.

surgery
The children died following complex surgery at the hospital
He said the issue of keeping organs without consent had become a cause of concern.

"By the early nineties I was become increasingly uncomfortable with this grey area in the law," he said.

"I became more and more cautious about the retention of whole organs and endeavoured whenever possible not to do so.

"Looking back from 1999, I regret I did not become aware of this issue and act on it sooner."

He also told the inquiry about how he tried to improve the situation.

"One of the solutions, which I now think is inadequate, was to return parts of the heart to the body and retain part for our studies," he said.

'Sensitive issue'

"If you have a grey area we do our best to stay on the right side of it. Increasingly one was aware, through other aspects of our work with stillborns and foetuses, of the great sensitivity of issues of human tissue."

In the 1980s he had been concerned to provide "a quick and general cause of death so we didn't delay the funeral arrangements", he said.

"Now our view has changed and we would enter into dialogue . . . and accelerate examination of the heart so it could be returned to the body by the time of the funeral.

"Our generally held view as pathologists was that tissue lawfully obtained and no longer required for original purposes could ethically be used for the greater good and further retained rather than destroying it."

See also:

15 Mar 99 | The Bristol heart babies
21 Sep 99 | The Bristol heart babies
21 Sep 99 | The Bristol heart babies
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more The Bristol heart babies stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more The Bristol heart babies stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | World | UK | England | N Ireland | Scotland | Wales |
UK Politics | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology |
Health | Education | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes