Brains taken from dead for years, admits pathologist

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Pathologists are routinely removing and disposing of brains from corpses without telling their families, the Royal College of Pathologists admitted last night.

Pathologists are routinely removing and disposing of brains from corpses without telling their families, the Royal College of Pathologists admitted last night.

The revelation comes just days after the discovery of yet more infant body parts at Liverpool's Alder Hey hospital.

It had been widely assumed that the removal of organs was restricted to a small number of children's hospitals. But the admission by the Royal College that the practice is common across the country will increase pressure on the Government to introduce legislation governing the behaviour of pathologists.

Last night, a lawyer representing the Alder Hey parents called for the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to order an immediate ban on any unauthorised removal of internal organs.

"We believe organ removal has occurred without consent in every teaching hospital in Britain," said Ian Cohen, a partner at Goodmans Solicitors in Liverpool. "It is an overbearing view which is no longer acceptable if a coroner decides not to tell the family."

The full extent of removal has only come to light after the parents of a teenage boy discovered by accident that their son had been buried minus his brain. Stuart Lister, 18, died from extensive head injuries after being found by a road last May in Keighley, West Yorkshire. His father, Keith, discovered his brain had been removed and destroyed after his son's funeral. A magistrate, he found out the truth by reading part of the Crown Prosecution Service file on the death.

The coroner has now admitted that mistakes were made, and procedures have since changed, but Mr Lister is demanding an investigation by the Home Secretary.

"The very thing which made Stuart who he was, his personality, is missing," said Mr Lister, a community safety co-ordinator with the Borough of Pendle, Lancashire. He remains convinced that his son's brain was used for medical research.

"If it had been any other part of him we might have come to terms with it. His body is in the ground, but the rest of him is elsewhere. That's not right. The pathologist is still not telling us what happened to the brain. For all I know it could be lying in a dustbin. This is about the medical profession playing God and they don't care that it's your loved one."

Professor James Lowe, a RCP council member, said coroners had often kept the details from families "in an attempt to avoid distress".

"This has been common practice over the past 20 years or longer," added Prof Lowe, a neuropathologist at the University of Nottingham Medical School. "I don't think anyone has been consciously arrogant," he said.

Last week, it was announced that parts of the brains of 146 children who died and underwent a post-mortem at Alder Hey had been discovered.

A total of 58 families have held a second funeral for their children after hearts or other organs were returned to them within the past 10 months.

So concerned is the Government about the issue that the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Liam Donaldson, is conducting an audit of the number of organs retained by NHS hospitals which is expected to be published in October.

The Royal College of Pathologists issued new guidelines earlier this year to ensure families were informed if organs were removed. But Ed Bradley, acting chairman of the parents' support group, PITY II, for Alder Hey victims, said laws should be introduced to make pathologists accountable.

"This is about the sheer arrogance of pathologists," he said. "I welcome the new guidelines, but they are only guidelines." A spokesperson for the Department of Health said last night: "In March this year, the Chief Medical Officer issued interim guidelines to all NHS trusts looking at the issue of post mortem examinations and consent. The guidelines ensure that bereaved families are consulted about the retention of organs. Fully comprehensive guidance will be published later this year."

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