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Mr Cyril Mark Isaacs

Volume 405: debated on Monday 12 May 2003

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We are publishing today a report by Her Majesty's Inspector of Anatomy, Dr Jeremy Metters CB, into the case of the late Mr. Cyril Mark Isaacs whose brain was removed following coroner's post mortem in 1987 without the knowledge or consent of his widow.The Inspector found that Mr. Isaacs' brain was retained as part of an arrangement whereby the coroners' office in North Manchester would identify brains suitable for a research programme at Manchester University. The Inspector also found evidence that brains were removed from adults in other locations.The Secretary State for Health asked HM Inspector to undertake this investigation following concerns raised by Mr. Isaacs' widow, Mrs. Elaine Isaacs. I wish to pay tribute to Mrs. Isaacs for bringing this case to public attention and to say how much I regret the distress that has been caused not only to her and her family but to others whose cases are mentioned in the Inspector's report.The events described in the report relate to unacceptable practices some years ago. Since then, and particularly in the light of other reports, including those into events at Alder Hey and Bristol, we have made considerable steps to improve arrangements relating to any removal, retention and use of human organs and tissue from adults or children. In doing so, we have worked very closely with many statutory, professional, family, voluntary and other bodies. I am grateful to them for helping to change the culture and practice in this area.The report makes a number of specific recommendations with implications for the National Health Service, coroners, universities and medical researchers. We shall consider these carefully in the light of action already taken in this area and then respond more formally. Following extensive consultation, we have recently published an interim framework of guidance and other materials to reflect transparent new systems founded on consent. Steps have been taken to modernise the practice of pathology and to improve the management of joint NHS and academic posts. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is considering the report of the fundamental review of the coroner's system. We have also consulted on changes to the law on human organs and tissue, which is outmoded and inadequate. We shall introduce new legislation as soon as Parliamentary time allows.I appreciate that some people may be concerned about organ retention in the light of the Inspector's report. We have therefore asked the Retained Organs Commission to put specific arrangements in place for anyone who wishes to make an enquiry. A helpline has been established (0800 838909).It is important that public confidence in medical research is not adversely affected by the findings in the report. Good quality research is essential if we are to meet today's public health challenges seriously. Our recently published interim statement on the use of human organs and tissue sets out clearly our expectations within the current law. This should help to reassure the public, as well as those who need to use organs and tissue for purposes that serve all our interests.I am grateful to Dr. Metters for investigating this matter in such detail and for producing such a helpful and comprehensive report. Copies of the report have been placed in the Library.