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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 10:23 GMT
Organ scandal: How can faith in the health service be restored?
A police inquiry has been ordered after it was revealed that thousands of body parts were stripped from dead babies and stored at Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool.
A report into the organ removal scandal has revealed that the bodies of dead children who underwent a post-mortem at the hospital were systematically stripped of all their organs.
In a separate report, the chief medical officer revealed that that more than 100,000 organs are still being held by hospitals and medical schools across England. Many had been removed without the consent of relatives.
The Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, described what happened at Alder Hey as unforgivable. He announced legislation to ensure this did not happen again.
Is that enough? What damage have these revelations done to the public's faith in the health service? What more can be done to ensure this never happens again?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
"How can faith in the health service be restored?"
Does the public actually have any faith in the NHS to lose anymore?
My every sympathy goes to the families of those children whose organs were removed without consent. But I think that doctors shouldn't need consent if they are acting in the best interests of medicine which I'm sure they were.
This issue is tragic - but it seems less about the stripping of organs from dead children - than the parent's inability to come to terms with their grief. It seems to me that many are still trying to find an answer or apportion blame for their child's death.
Surely the question that should be asked is 'Why hasn't Alderhay given sufficient grief counselling to these parents'.
My child (stillborn) 14 years ago may be involved in this awful tragedy, I am waiting to find out. How can I or any other parent believe a doctor in the future. I will not, ever.
This Alder Hey thing is getting completely out of hand.
Having worked in a mortuary many years ago, I think most people have not got any idea what is involved in a post mortem.
IT IS NOT LIKE THE MOVIES OR TV.
It's like saying that a war film is like the real thing.
The body is routinely stripped of organs. It has to be. It's not some delicate process like a operation. It's more like butcher's shop.
If you were in the slightest bit emotionally connected with what you were doing you would go mad.
In such circumstances it is completely unreasonable that you should expect the people doing the job, even consultant pathologists to make ethical decisions in this area.
The real problem lies in the natural unwillingness of the medical profession to tell people what exactly is involved in a post mortem.
Alder Hey is still a working hospital taking care of sick and injured children. The press should try to make some positive comments about the hardworking and dedicated staff. Most of them have children of their own and can associate with the heartache felt by the parents. The staff do not need to be hounded by the press at every turn.
Due the irresponsible media coverage of this story we now have a lack of organ donors which means that people will die. They have spent weeks telling people that if their relative is buried without all the relevant bits then they should be traumatised and require compensation.
Angela Sharrock, UK
What disturbs me is the suggestion that private companies may have received the organs in exchange for 'expenses'. When I donate my body to medical research I want the State and the community to benefit, not the shareholders of a private company.
The real scandal is that the organs were taken for research - and then not used.
Clare Jackson, UK
Many of those affected just want compensation. Can money really replace their loved ones? The NHS were not responsible for their deaths. A written public apology should be issued instead of writing blank compensation cheques.
I would like to point out that the practice of retaining organs from children went on before Prof. van Velzen arrived, and continued after he left. Maybe other doctors within the hospital should be held accountable.
Simon Morley, UK
Many of the comments have stated that what went on at Alder Hey is a routine and widespread practice carried out for research and pharmaceutical purposes. This is true, and it is precisely what makes it so appalling. A human being is a person; not a collection of spare parts to be harvested-- especially when it is done for no other purpose than to pad some doctor's publication record. Simply because it is "routine" does not in any way justify such callous disrespect for the dead.
Dr Sion Williams, UK
I think the media is to blame and I thank the hospitals for all their hard work.
Is it coincidence that this recent round of doctor bashing coincides with the stalling of negotiations for a new hospital consultants' contract? There is quite a bit of political mileage available for Mr Milburn standing up and slating the medical profession in general terms.
Richard P, UK
The tone of the media in this story contrasts sharply with the tone of the majority of people submitting their views on this page. Surely the essence of a person does not exist in their organs but their soul and I have yet to hear of a successful surgical procedure that can remove that and store it in a jar.
I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the compensation claims start and it's only then the truly disgusting aspect of this story will come about.
Dr Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet suggested that the whole medical profession would welcome a greater flow of information between doctors and patients. Why then is it not possible for the man/ woman in the street to buy the medical journals and publications which are restricted and closely guarded by the medical professions? Having completed years of medical research here and in the USA, I am interested in any papers published. But information is denied to me because I am not a DOCTOR.
The fuss surrounding this case is utterly beyond me. Will people never accept that once you're dead you're dead, regardless of what happens to your organs? The attitude that organs should remain in the body is an irrational and damaging one and if one person has taken the initiative to ignore it, then good luck to him. Until people stop thinking like this then actions like these will be necessary. I suspect the parents of these children would feel differently if their deaths had been caused by a lack of donated organs.
History shows that the boundaries of public acceptability can be changed, but keeping people in the dark is never acceptable.
Chris Klein, UK
Perhaps I am too detached from this, not having a child of mine involved, but I cannot really understand what is so shocking about removal of organs. If the children had been cremated, as many are, all their organs would have been consumed. If the children had been buried their organs would have decomposed in due course leaving only the bones.
The principle of taking organs from the dead is surely the best way of seeking out medical advances. No animals are injured or tortured and the dead are making a positive contribution to the living and yet unborn. Surely a noble humanitarian gesture. Should not the system work in reverse, and assume organs can be used unless the relatives specifically state otherwise. When I die the medical centres can have as many of my organs as they wish - they are of no use to me then!
Doctors, like any other profession (i.e. lawyers) have problem cases, but if the Government and media continue to blanket attack medics we may find an even bigger shortage in years to come.
A poorly paid job with tuition fees and anti-social hours; I wonder when you strip away the respect for the profession, if it will be a question of money in the future. How much you can pay, and how much they can make.
Perhaps Labour will destroy the NHS completely in their second term!
It's interesting to compare the reactions so far printed here with the hysteria whipped up by the newspapers. A positive result for the rational, against superstition and ignorance.
Bless the medical profession. In the main they are self-sacrificing angels. Not a phrase used too often about journalists.
And while I'm on the subject, may I utterly condemn the rising number of assaults carried out against NHS staff. An absolute disgrace.
Firstly, the majority of tissue samples were extracted during surgical procedures where parental consent had been sought and given. So the tissues in question (e.g. thymus glands) were surgical waste.
Following a major incident in our family life we had need to use many of the services of Alder Hey just three years ago. The quality of service and care was beyond reproach. The name of the hospital as a whole or the healthcare service in Britain should not be undermined by what has happened. Let everybody move on to accept that progress in medical science and care is only made by learning from our mistakes.
Paul Macnamara, UK
Frankly, inciting the nation to lower its respect for our doctors and the NHS in general, whilst it spins a handy problem which our Government might be able to "solve", will cost us all very dear. Instead of procedural rectification and maintaining research, they are creating a mistrust which may take many years to subside.
Do we really want to know EVERYTHING that happens to someone after they die? Such as exactly what happens at a post-mortem or what exactly is done to the body in a funeral parlour?
I think the removal of organs for education and research is to be actively encouraged as people can only benefit, providing the dead are treated with respect.
I agree that there should be consent, but I hardly think this is a scandal. Removing dead organs from dead bodies. Aren't there more worthy issues to get riled up about?
Is this story going to turn into a race to bleed the NHS of much-needed funds in order to 'compensate' the relatives?
The practice that has been condemned at Alder Hey is, I think, widespread throughout the Western medical world and is carried out for honourable purposes. It would be a disgrace to see one man face criminal charges for what has been in the past acceptable practice for the wider medical community.
Matthew Redden, UK
Who was the Health Minister at the time? Surely they must take some responsibility as more than one hospital is involved.
Socialised medicine has no self-regulation.
In the US our market-driven medical system
wouldn't have such a scandal as Alder Hey.
Our medical system not only answers to
the Government, but to consumers of medical
services and products. Socialised medicine doesn't offer these checks
and balances. The only power that the UK medical system
has to answer to is government bureaucracy. Government
agencies have a reputation of "waiting out the storm," then
"sweeping the problem under a rug".
Do you not realise that organ retention after autopsies occurs widely both in the UK and other countries? I doubt that informed consent is obtained in very many cases. Pathology museums are full of jars of human organs and I have attended many clinico-pathologic conferences at which dissected organs, especially hearts and brains, have been displayed. In certain cases the learning experience for me has been of definite benefit for subsequent patients.
Y. Alum, UK
It's not going to happen in this country of tabloid newspapers, scaremongering TV and medieval opinions about the body. Why not let the doctors get on with their job including teaching and research without having to explain or justify everything to an ignorant public who don't have the first notion about medicine. What people don't know can't hurt them. It is in the nation's best interest not to burden doctors with legislation and bureaucracy.
I suggest that everyone who no longer has faith in the Health Service finds medical treatment from an alternative source. In the past the successful treatment of a disease or ailment was seen as a bonus, something to be appreciative of. Now however, the public seems to think a cure is 'their right' and anything otherwise is negligence. This kind of constant media bashing of medical professionals will only result in less people choosing a career in medicine and then who loses out? You do.
Is there anything better to worry about than what happens to people's bodies AFTER they die? From a Christian point of view, the point is irrelevant. From a materialist point of view, similarly irrelevant. When I'm dead I hope people don't waste their time arguing what happens to my remains!
Michael Farmer, UK
Please do not over-react. Apart from a lack of consideration in not informing or asking - what is the scandal? That doctors have tried to further research to reduce suffering? New doctors need to learn and we need better research. Improve consent and communications by all means but don't try to paint the medical profession as modern body-snatchers - there are bigger things to worry about.
The whole subject of post mortems is repulsive to most people. However it remains an important part of medical science, without which modern medicine would not exist. I agree consent should be required, but THIS is the limit of the problem. It is far too easy to play on people's fears and misconceptions in such a delicate situation and this is what the press has done. Once I, or any member of my family has died, I would rather that some good came of it. The benefits that have been gained from organ research should be published and this may restore faith in the Health Service. This has instead destroyed my faith in large sections of the press.
Dave Allen, London, UK
What a shame the solicitors, media, and Alan Milburn cannot judge medical staff and hospitals on their intent - as opposed to whipping up a furore which will cost time and money that could otherwise be spent on patients.
Clearly the selling of the thymuses was only intended to do good and I applaud Alder Hey for having the good judgement to do this.
When we next fret about how lengthy waiting lists and treatments are, let us not forget that the legal pressures and the ridiculous dictats from the Government are leading to medics having to spend less time operating, and more time doing paperwork and red-tape.
So who decides which organs are "needed" and which ones aren't? If there is a countrywide shortage of kidney donors, is there a chance we could wake up after a tonsillectomy and be missing a kidney too? We can get by with only one, and the same goes for lungs, but I think I'd prefer it if someone told me I was going to be a little short of breath after the op.
I believe the wording on the Donor Card is "after my death", not "when it suits the hospital".
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