Intended for healthcare professionals


Families to sue over organ removals

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 18 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1242
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    Families of dead children whose organs were removed at postmortem examinations and stored are to sue the Diana, Princess of Wales Children's Hospital in Birmingham for acting without their consent and for giving them misleading information.

    The parents bringing the test cases are among a group of 30 who have been campaigning for a year for a public inquiry and trying to find out the extent to which the practice went on. The widespread storage of organs and tissue for research or education came to light during the public inquiry into high death rates from children's heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary, which is due to report next year. Some parents were devastated to learn that they had buried their children with organs missing.

    An inquiry into the routine removal and storage of organs at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool is expected to report next month. The Diana, Princess of Wales hospital said in a statement that it had apologised to the families for the distress caused to them. The hospital said legal action was premature while the government's chief medical officer, Liam Donaldson, was still carrying out an inquiry to determine the extent of the practice at children's hospitals across the country. The BMA issued interim guidance this month stressing the need to obtain relatives' consent for the removal and retention of organs from dead patients.

    Similar guidance has been issued by the Royal College of Pathologists. Richard Follis, the families' solicitor, said public inquiries had looked into the problem in Liverpool and Bristol, but the Birmingham families were still waiting for answers. He said the parents planned to sue over unlawful removal, retention, and disposal of human tissue and over misleading information they had been given during the past 12 months about the extent of removal and retention.

    Reports by an independent pathologist showed that more organs and tissue had been removed and retained than the hospital had admitted. Mr Follis said “The parents were unhappy with what they see as [the pathologist's] attempts to defend the situation.” He added: “In a number of specific cases, we have evidence that the pathologist carried out procedures beyond the scope of his limited authority. In a coroner's case in September 1999, the paediatric pathologist removed about 16 organs and the coroner has since confirmed that the pathologist was not acting with his authority or knowledge.”

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