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Friday, 12 January, 2001, 20:55 GMT
Couple's anguish over organ removal
Raymond and Mary Miskelly are traumatised by the news
Raymond and Mary Miskelly are traumatised by the news
A County Down couple have spoken of their distress after the revelation that the organs of 361 dead babies are being stored at a Belfast Hospital.

Raymond and Mary Miskelly family, whose twins died 19 years ago, fear one of their children's organs may have been removed by the Royal Victoria Hospital.

Organs were removed without parental consent after the babies died, over a period of more than half a century, and stored for the purposes of diagnosis.

The news comes after organ removal scandals at both Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool and Bristol Royal Infirmary in England.

The Miskelly family, from Newtownards, are seeking information from the hospital about their daughter Sonia.

She died six days after she was born prematurely.

Mrs Miskelly said: "I was hurt and thought the Royal should have contacted the families, not that the families should contact them.

"They say they have 361 parts of babies. How many do they have really and how many families are sitting like us, wondering is part of their baby in the Royal?

"I'm hoping ours isn't. But if it is, I want it returned. Why did they take them without asking the parents, if it was to help save another baby's life?"

Dr Claire Thornton said the organs were removed for diagnosis
Dr Claire Thornton said the organs were removed for diagnosis

She said that the news brought the hurt of 18 years ago back to the family.

"Life goes on, I have had other children from I had her. You learn to get on with your life, you rear your other kids, but now it's just like yesterday, we're just waiting to bring her home again to bury her."

Her husband, Raymond, said that if their daughter's organ was in the hospital they would be opening the family grave for another burial.

"How many other people are going through the same turmoil as us now?" he asked.

The Royal Hospitals Trust confirmed it did not seek parental consent until December l999.

More than 150 of the 36l organs were removed more than 30 years ago. One dates back to l944.

The hospital has a list of names and all the organs have been properly catalogued, a spokeswoman said.

She added: "At the time, the practice was not wrong. It was done with the best of intentions, primarily to find out why a child had died and to prevent similar complications for other members of their families.

"What was done was in keeping with best practice."

But a system was now in place "to ensure that no organs can be removed without written permission, that parents fully understand the procedure and that the babies' bodies are treated with respect and dignity.

"It is important that parents, in the midst of the public anxiety created by what happened at Alder Hey, are not deterred from giving permission for organ examinations which increase medical understanding of the diseases from which babies die."

Dr Claire Thornton, Northern Ireland's regional paediatric pathologist, said the organs were kept for diagnostic purposes, not research.

"They were retained so that we could get the most accurate diagnosis to enable us to give parents as much information as possible about why their child died," she added.

Northern Ireland health minister Bairbre de Brun said the paediatric pathology service worked closely with parents and clinicians.

But officials would also advise her on how lessons emerging from the Alder Hey inquiry should influence future practice.

She said: "I am concerned that we do everything possible to further improve clinical practice in this area of organ retention."

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See also:

13 Nov 00 | Health
Hospital retained foetuses
03 Dec 99 | Health
Inquiry into organ scandal
05 Nov 99 | The Bristol heart babies
The Bristol Inquiry
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