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Probe will focus on sale of organs of dead children

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Andrew Bushe

DUBLIN — An official inquiry into the retention by hospitals of the organs of dead children without their parents’ consent has been set up by the Irish government after it was discovered that brain tissue had been harvested by a Dublin hospital for a pharmaceutical company.

When preparing answers to Dail questions, Health Minister Michael Martin last week said his officials had discovered that pituitary glands were extracted from the brains of dead children without parental consent in Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin.

"These glands were given to a pharmaceutical company for the purposes of manufacturing a growth hormone that was then used to treat people of short stature," Martin said.

A health department official said the company received the small bean-shaped glands from the base of the children’s brains in exchange for charitable donations.

The documentation discovered so far details two payments totaling £109 given to the hospital’s research fund.

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The company, now called Pharmacia & Upjohn, said it had received tissue from other hospitals and the practice had continued from 1974-85, when a synthetic hormone was developed.

Martin said the inquiry would cover all aspects of post-mortem practice, organ retention and disposal at Our Lady’s Hospital and any other hospitals where organs were retained.

The "unacceptable practice" of retaining organs without consent had exposed parents to ongoing trauma.

"I want any inquiry to take those sort of sensitivities into account," the minister said.

He said there is a "huge chasm" between professionals and their established practices and grieving parents.

It has already been disclosed that a variety of organs had been removed from dead child and retained by hospitals. The only law in Ireland dealing with human tissue dates from the 1830s.

Fionnula O’Reilly, spokeswoman for the Parents for Justice group, which has been campaigning for an inquiry, said she was shocked by the latest revelation. More than 200 parents set up the organization last year.

O’Reilly’s son died five years ago, but it was only last December that his heart and lungs were returned by the hospital after she made inquiries.

"It was appalling. I’m told that my child’s organs were simply misplaced apart from a batch that was destined for incineration," she said.

"I’m sure parents can imagine the huge offensiveness of that remark to a family who had been bereaved and whose child had struggled so hard to retain those organs during his short life."

She said the group had been told that consent was not sought because it would have been too harrowing for the parents at the time of their bereavement.

They wanted specific answers from the inquiry about the reasons for the organ retention and the disposal of the organs afterward.

They also wanted to know if organs had been exported to Holland and Belgium for disposal, as has been suggested.

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