Coroner probes child organs row

Padraic Flanagan,Pa News
Friday 03 December 1999 00:00
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A Coroner is to probe claims that a hospital removed a dead child's heart and other organs without the consent of her parents.

A Coroner is to probe claims that a hospital removed a dead child's heart and other organs without the consent of her parents.

Liverpool Coroner Andre Rebello told the BBC he is to look again at the circumstances surrounding the death of a young girl at Alder Hey Royal Children's Hospital.

Mr Rebello said the Valentine family, whose daughter Kayleigh died at the hospital nine years ago, had been "brutalised by a system".

"When a post mortem is carried out, there is no authority for special tests or histology to be done so I don't understand why organs were removed," he told BBC1 Breakfast News.

"It's absolutely outrageous that any organs were taken in the first place, and in the second place, that the family have to go through the loss process again and have to rebuild their lives again.

"It's just unacceptable, totally unconscionable that this should happen to anyone."

Representatives of the families involved are demanding a public inquiry into the scandal.

Kayleigh's mother, Mrs Janet Valentine, told the same programme that she had specifically asked that her daughter's body should be left alone after she did not come round from the anaesthetic following the operation.

"I told the sister 'I don't want her touched, I don't want anything done to her now, I don't want to donate her organs, I don't want anything done at all'," she said.

"How could he butcher my daughter? Those organs have just been sitting in Alder Hay. What have they gained from doing that?"

Last October the hospital, which had already admitted to having collected the hearts of 2,087 children, revealed that it had discovered 850 stored organs of which neither doctors nor parents were aware.

The organs were found during an internal inquiry at the hospital to establish what bereaved parents were told when they signed a post mortem examination consent form.

During the current public inquiry into the deaths of babies in heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, it emerged that a number of hospitals routinely retained hearts and other organs for research purposes.

Although parents sign a form consenting to a post mortem examination which states that "tissue may be retained" for research, many are too distressed at the time to understand that this could mean the removal of entire organs.

Anguished parents have been shocked to discover that the bodies of their children were not buried intact.

The additional organs found at Alder Hey, which were all removed during post mortem examinations carried out by Professor Dick van Velzen, an expert in cot death, between 1988 and 1995, were found in a laboratory store at Liverpool University.

Professor van Velzen, who left Holland to take over the chair of foetal and infant pathology at Liverpool university in 1988, is believed to have performed about 800 post mortem examinations over seven years.

Professor van Velzen, who now works abroad, had been involved in establishing a connection between abnormal kidney development and cot death during his years in Liverpool.

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