Body parts 'stolen for radiation research'

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Families of nuclear workers whose organs were secretly tested for radiation research were wronged, an inquiry found today.

Body parts were taken without consent from 64 former Sellafield employees and provided for analysis by their employers between 1960 and 1991.

Organs were also taken without consent from 12 workers at nuclear sites in Springfields, Capenhurst, Dounreay and Aldermaston to be tested at Sellafield.

Families giving evidence to the inquiry led by Michael Redfern QC - who probed the Alder Hey organ scandal - were said to be shocked their loved ones were buried or cremated without many internal organs.

The report found an "extraordinary range" of organs were removed to gauge any effects of radiation.

The liver was removed in all cases and one or both lungs in all but one incident.

Vertebrae, sternum, ribs, lymph nodes, spleen, kidneys and femur were also stripped in the majority of incidents.

Brains, tongues, hearts and testes were also taken on the advice of the medical officer at Sellafield.

All the organs were later destroyed.

The majority of the post-mortems were undertaken by pathologists at West Cumberland Hospital in which an "informal arrangement" existed whereby the Sellafield medical officer would be notified.

Once stripped, organs were taken by car in a coolbox to Sellafield.

When coroners were involved in deaths, some failed to even read post-mortem reports while some knew organs were removed without consent but failed to act.

Mr Redfern concluded the relationship between pathologists, coroners and Sellafield medical officers "became too close" with failures to adhere to professional standards.

He said: "In most of the cases, families have been wronged. Organs were removed at post mortem and provided for analysis despite being of no possible relevance to the cause of death.

"The blame lies mainly at the door of pathologists who performed the post mortem examinations. Ignorant of the law, they removed organs for analysis without satisfying themselves that the relatives' consent had been obtained.

"Relatives were seldom asked for their consent. As a result, families buried or cremated incomplete bodies and many of those who have discovered the truth, years later, have been greatly distressed."

He continued: "In coronial cases, proper supervision would have prevented the abuse and allowed the bodies to be treated with dignity and respect."

Under the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 1961, since superseded by the Human Tissue Act 2004, body parts may be removed at post mortem for medical education, treatment or research if permission was given by the deceased or their relatives.

Body parts may be removed on the direction of a coroner if a pathologist believes the examination may shed light on the cause of death.

Mr Redfern conducted the inquiry into the removal of body organs from 800 children at the Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool, which concluded a pathologist "systematically stripped" organs from dead children.

Mike Clancy, deputy general secretary for engineers' union, Prospect, said: "Nobody would question the value of medical research into potential health risks to the industry's employees and close neighbours.

"Such research is clearly in the public interest but that does not in any way justify the removal of tissue without appropriate consent.

"Our thoughts are with the affected families, for whom this is difficult and upsetting."

Steve Gibbons, regional officer responsible for GMB members at Sellafield, added: "This has been an extremely distressing period for the families involved in this ordeal and this union shares their concerns.

"GMB believe that we have played our part in trying to eradicate, completely, levels of radiation exposure in order that workers are protected from industrial disease."

Mr Redfern said it was the view of the families that the bodies were treated as a "commodity".

Bones were even replaced with broomstick handles so no-one would become suspicious at the funerals.

He said: "One family member described his reaction to finding out that his father was involved in this inquiry 20 years after what he had always regarded as a dignified and respected funeral.

"He said 'my family and I have been absolutely devastated as a result of what has gone on.

'I believe that they showed severe disrespect to my father's body and I find this mutilation very disturbing'."