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Thursday, 8 February, 2001, 10:23 GMT
Organ scandal: How can faith in the health service be restored?
Should parents have been asked for their consent?
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.

Your reaction

"How can faith in the health service be restored?" Does the public actually have any faith in the NHS to lose anymore?
James, UK

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.
Helen B, UK

Don't try and pin the blame on one man, when to me its clear the problem it a national one

William, UK
It is tragic. It doesn't matter what the figure is, learning that you have buried a child without a heart must be terrible. It is my opinion that the doctors truly believed they were acting in the best interests of the child or family. I believe that doctors would only keep organs after particularly unusual deaths. If questions were asked later perhaps they feel they would be able to answer them better. Don't try and pin the blame on one man, when to me its clear the problem it a national one.
William, UK

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'.
Julie, UK

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.
Mrs G Nutt, UK

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.
Andrew Stone, UK

Compensation claims could run into billions

Mike, England
I frankly cannot understand the fuss but when I hear a solicitor talking of "negligence" - it seems this is another potential honey-pot for the legal profession. Compensation claims could run into billions.
Mike, England

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.
Mrs M. Padmore, UK

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.
Jane Jackman, UK

I am able to enjoy a very precious life because surgeons at the Royal Liverpool Children's hospital were pioneers in this field

Angela Sharrock, UK
This comment is in no way trying to ignore the pain that the parents are suffering. I just wanted to highlight that I had open-heart surgery in 1966 and 1973 and a further procedure in 1999. I am a 35 year old adult with congenital heart defects. I am able to enjoy a very precious life because surgeons at the Royal Liverpool Children's hospital, which was then Myrtle Street were pioneers in this field. Why were they pioneers? Because they had the defective organs to study from. Sorry to the parents, but thanks to the doctors.
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.
Andrew Wilson, Scotland

How great is the power of hindsight

Andrew, Wales
Another example of kick the hospitals by applying today's standards retrospectively. This had been going on for years up and down the country. It was accepted then it is not now. How great is the power of hindsight.
Andrew, Wales

The real scandal is that the organs were taken for research - and then not used.
Gill, UK

Apart from the practical changes, we should try to breach the spiritual void

Clare Jackson, UK
Aren't we avoiding the central issue: the medical understanding of "body" is clinical, literally. The parents are grieving for a person. Somewhere we have to be much clearer as to when the body is not the person. Since this is obviously a spiritual matter, there should be more (any?) discussion from a spiritual angle. I suggest that in today's climate where death is still largely taboo, it will get more so if people have no faith to fall back on, or no chance to at least think about death. How can we restore faith in the NHS? Apart from the practical changes, we should try to breach the spiritual void.
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.
John, UK

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.
Anon, England

This continued sniping at doctors will merely encourage more doctors to leave medicine

Simon Morley, UK
My concern is that this continued sniping at doctors including the plans for revalidation will merely encourage more doctors to leave medicine, retire early or work abroad. After all, the stress, responsibility and long hours are not compensated for by the mediocre pay and now the medical profession seems to command little respect. I suggest the government starts to support the doctors in the NHS or it will soon have a new and major staffing crisis to worry about.
Simon Morley, UK

You must realise that a large proportion of the organs were unusable for transplant or donor purposes

Caroline, UK
As a parent directly involved with Alder Hey it has never been ours nor anyone else's intention to bring the hospital to its knees. The organs that were taken have in most of the cases not been used for any purpose whatsoever! They have just collected dust in a dark and dirty cellar. The collection of organs was just pure harvesting and nothing more. In some cases they had started to rot because the fluid that fixes them had not been topped up. Also labels were so damp and damaged that there was no way of ever knowing who or what was stored in the buckets that just stood on top of one another. So please don't condemn us. Most if asked, would have been happy for our children's organs to have been used to help another. You must realise that a large proportion of the organs were unusable for transplant or donor purposes.
Caroline, 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.
David Szondy, USA (British)

All the politicians seem to want to do is play party games

Dr Sion Williams, UK
Firstly as a GP married to a hospital doctor I have a declared interest here. My wife works much harder than me looking after a renal dialysis centre. She usually eats her sandwich on the run and sometimes doesn't have time to urinate all day. That sort of busy. In fact she doesn't read any newspapers and I tell her what's happening in the world. We do basically live for our families and our patients. So a big thank you to all of you who have posted positive comments about the medical profession. Contrary to what you read in the press I don't know a single doctor who doesn't care just as much as we do about their patients. All the newspapers want to do is sell newspapers, all the politicians seem to want to do is play party games. We get on with the blood and guts of life and death, which is real.
Dr Sion Williams, UK

I think the media is to blame and I thank the hospitals for all their hard work.
Jacinta, UK

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.
David, London, UK

Public confidence in the NHS is being deliberately undermined

Richard P, UK
Make no mistake, the constant sniping at the NHS from politicians and their pet journalists is no accident. Public confidence in the NHS is being deliberately undermined in order that when increased private sector involvement is announced the public will accept it with little more than a whimper.
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.
David Robinson, Scotland

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.
Annabel Darrall-Rew, England

Do any of the contributors here have children?

Colin, England
Do any of the contributors here have children? In the case of the child whose body was apparently used, the anguish of the parents at the thought of what they buried is unimaginable. I used to be certain that organ extractions would always be for a greater good. This has shaken my faith in some aspects of the Health Service.
Colin, England

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.
Lucy, UK

History shows that the boundaries of public acceptability can be changed, but keeping people in the dark is never acceptable.
Clive Mitchell, UK

I will continue to have more confidence in the medical profession than politicians

Chris Klein, UK
The Health Secretary's remarks in Parliament were intemperate, populist and designed to get New Labour's other problems off the front pages. I will continue to have more confidence in the medical profession than politicians.
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!
Jon Buck, UK

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!
Richard, England

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.
Randy, UK

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.
Secondly, those that were removed at post mortem - they have to be taken out of the body as part of the process anyway. Why worry if they aren't put back in to rot? Medical students have to learn using something - would we rather go back to robbing graves? Finally, all the jibes against the NHS and "socialised medicine" are political point-scoring. This is common practice in the whole of the medical profession. We have less right to complain if we don't like it in private medicine, as, after all, people in the "socialised" NHS ultimately work for us.
Julian, Wiltshire

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.
Stephen Miller, Belgium

The organs were taken in good faith

Paul Macnamara, UK
I think that all this frenzy of anger at the medical profession is an absolute disgrace. My son died at 3 days old and a post-mortem was carried out. If some of his organs were taken for research then I AM HAPPY and feel that some good may have come out of the tragedy of his death. To paint the pathologist as some Dr Death is ridiculous. The organs were taken in good faith. How on earth is medical science going to ever progress if there is no material for carrying out research.
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.
Chris Williams, England

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.
Mandy, UK

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?
Roxanne, USA

Is this story going to turn into a race to bleed the NHS of much-needed funds in order to 'compensate' the relatives?
James Simpson (Dr), England

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.
P. Burn, Canada

Stripping bodies without consulting the relatives of the dead is disrespectful and not acceptable

Matthew Redden, UK
Systems need to be in place so that pathologists know how far they can go. Using glands from living patients is a minor issue. Bear in mind that tonsils that were removed and kept have now been used in very important CJD research. Stripping bodies without consulting the relatives of the dead is disrespectful and not acceptable.
Matthew Redden, UK

Who was the Health Minister at the time? Surely they must take some responsibility as more than one hospital is involved.
Margaret Pocklington, England

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".
Andrew Hoover, Walnut Creek, California, USA

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.
Paul Dee, USA

When will the media learn that what goes on in hospitals across the country is pretty unpleasant?

Y. Alum, UK
When will the media learn that what goes on in hospitals across the country is pretty unpleasant? That is the nature of disease and death. The publication of this kind of material will always shock an ignorant proportion of society (those who live in their own little worlds). What happens next is that the media go looking for shock stories and legitimate work/ research will be disrupted.
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.
Stuart, UK

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.
R. Dasiel, UK

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!
Chris Cormier, Canada

My faith in the medical profession doesn't need to be restored

Michael Farmer, UK
My faith in the medical profession doesn't need to be restored. While the report highlights many deficiencies (and possibly criminal actions), it has a very narrow frame of reference and should not be used as an indictment (savage or otherwise) of the NHS as a whole.
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.
Bob, UK

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.
Mark Davies, UK

Are we now in a society where our medical staff are as corrupt as our politicians?

Dave Allen, London, UK
This is the most disgusting story I have ever heard. I hope the people responsible will be subject to a police investigation and charged with theft because after all they have stolen. Are we now in a society where our medical staff are as corrupt as our politicians?
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.
Helen, UK

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".
Steve Wehrle, UK

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