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Britons Expressing Outrage Over Hospital That Stole Organs

Aired January 30, 2001 - 2:19 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Some parents in Britain are expressing anger and outrage today. They learned a prominent children's hospital removed the organs of their dead children without permission.

CNN's Margaret Lowrie has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARGARET LOWRIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The British health secretary told Parliament a government inquiry found organs from thousands of children had been removed during postmortems and stored at a Liverpool hospital without the knowledge of their parents.

ALAN MILBURN, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: According to the report, in addition to over 2,000 children's hearts, there are a large number of brain parts, eyes taken from fetuses, over 1,500 stillbirths of fetuses, and perhaps most disturbingly of all, a number of children's heads and bodies.

LOWRIE: The report laid much of the blame for the Alder Hey Hospital's practice on former chief of pathology Dick Van Velzen (ph). The case has been referred to Liverpool police for possible criminal action.

A separate report also examines pathology practices at other hospitals in Britain's National Health Service, or NHS, and found harvesting of organs, ostensibly for research purposes, to have been fairly common, with over 100,000 organs or parts listed as retained around the country.

MILBURN: Elsewhere in the NHS, it is clear organ retention without relatives' knowledge and agreement was widespread.

LOWRIE: A spokesman for the NHS trust that owns Alder Hey had this reaction.

TONY BELL, ALDER HAY HOSPITAL: We on behalf of the trust board deeply regret the serious mistakes highlighted in the record and report and apologize for the enormous distress caused to parents, their families, the staff and the local community.

LOWRIE: As a result of the findings, the health secretary announced proposed changes in Britain's NHS policy, including establishing a system of informed consent to ensure what happened at Alder Hey doesn't happen again.

Janet Dacombe says the hospital removed her son's heart, brain and intestines after his death.

JANET DACOMBE, PARENT: I found out that they were just stored in the basement and they hadn't been used, so I wanted to put them with the rest of my son.

LOWRIE: The Royal College of Pathologists says even before Tuesday's report, it had already acted to reform the way organ removal is carried out.

PROF. JOHN LILLEYMAN, ROYAL COLLEGE OF PATHOLOGISTS: We have to offer the information. That is the present culture. We have no difficulty with that, but whether people can always deal with it at the time they have to is another question.

LOWRIE: That was not at issue for the families of children whose organs were removed at Alder Hey. They say they're not against medical research. They only want to ensure families are given the choice as well as an understanding of what their choice may mean.

Margaret Lowrie, CNN, London.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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