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Stolen Hearts
Monday February 21 2000
Reporter Jane Corbin
Producer Ricardo Pollack


Programme Update - 30 January 2001
The NHS braces itself for public fury as the findings of the long awaited Alder Hey inquiry are released

Professor Dick Van Velzen, the pathologist at the centre of the Alder Hey child organs scandal has admitted to Panorama that he used some organs for research purposes without having the permission of the coroner or consent of parents.

Professor Dick Van Velzen
Professor Van Velzen maintains that he removed and stored the organs of 845 children because he did not have the resources from the hospital to carry out detailed post mortems. He says he hoped to complete the post mortems one day.

But asked by Panorama 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 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 coroners permission. Van Velzen did not seek it.

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 Velson
Van Velzen 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.

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

Ann Darracott
Ann and Tony Darracott, whose five year old son Phillip died eleven years ago, were told the Alder Hay hospital only had Philip's heart. The news devastated the couple

"It didn't seem right a heart belonging to my child could be part of a collection like butterflies, or insects, something to be visited and looked at" says Ann.

They just ticked the boxes with what they retained, abdominal organs - brain - and then lungs tagged on the end. Pretty cold don't you think

Tony Darracott
But worse was to follow with the admission a week later that Alder Hey had also retained the child's brain and abdominal organs.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page for helpline numbers and related web sites

Pauline Fendick
Eleven years ago, Pauline Fendick was six months pregnant when she discovered her baby had spina bifida. She decided to have a termination. At Alder Hey hospital the doctor asked her if she wanted the hospital to bury the stillborn baby in the hospital grounds and she agreed. Three months ago, she discovered that the hospital had kept the baby in a jar on a shelf all these years. Pauline said she was "devastated" when she heard. She is now seeking to finally bury the baby but as yet has not received the body from the hospital

Janet Valentine, Kayleigh's mother
The Valentine family who live in Wales had weeks of phone calls with the hospital trying to get a full list of the organs taken from Kayleigh. "It was like something out of a horror story, the organs doubled and doubled every week until eventually we found out they had totally mutilated Kayleigh's little body" says her father Kevin

Professor Sebastian Lucas
Professor Sebastian Lucas is the Chair of the Royal College of Pathologists working group on organ retention and a Professor of Pathology at Guy's Hospital. He admits to Panorama that organs have "most certainly" being retained for the purposes of research when strictly speaking they shouldn't have been.

"It came under the general rubric of doctor knows best, that it was not thought needed to explain precisely what went on doing 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 says.


Related links and helpline numbers:
National Committee Relating to Organ Retention, 48 Saxon Road, Bristol BS2 9UG, Tel: 01271 377 485
Support group for parents who have had relatives' organs retained or who are thinking of approaching hospitals to find out. They can provide an information pack.

Royal College of Pathologists draft guidance

Bulletin of Medical Ethics

British Organ Donor Society

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

Related BBC News Online stories:

Organ removal:the legal background

Details given on organ removal inquiry

Child organ surgeon warned of 'time bomb'

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Child's organs have been kept.
WATCH CLIP: A Liverpool couple learn that their child's organs have been kept at Alder Hey
Jane Cornin questions professors
WATCH CLIP: Jane Corbin questions professor Van Velzen and professor Lucas

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