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Organ Removal

Volume 450: debated on Monday 23 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) what steps she (a) is taking and (b) has taken to ensure that bereaved families wishing to raise issues regarding organ removal and retention in cases of sudden death which occurred before 2000 are provided with details of relevant post mortem reports; (89433)

(2) by what means she is publicising the rights of bereaved families to reclaim before 2007 organs which have been retained by hospitals without consent.

In April 2001, ahead of a full review of the law in this area, the Government set up the Retained Organs Commission (ROC), a special health authority, to deal with issues arising from organ retention cases in England and Wales. The primary purpose of ROC was to manage the process by which national health service trusts provided information to relatives about retained organs and tissue and to ensure that organs and tissue were returned to those who requested them. In addition, ROC provided information and advocacy for relatives and families throughout this period.

As part of its package of guidance, ROC made specific mention of the need to facilitate access to medical records wherever appropriate. ROC completed its work in March 2004. Thereafter, the Department funded a helpline provided by the National Bereavement Partnership, which ensures an ongoing source of information and help for families.

More recently, the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) was set up under the Human Tissue Act 2004, which applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Separate legislation was introduced in Scotland under the Human Tissue (Scotland) Act 2006. The 2004 Act followed the fundamental review of the law. The HTA has now issued its own guidance in its code of practice on the “Removal, storage and disposal of human organs and tissue”, which builds on and supersedes the previous guidance. The code sets out how NHS trusts should ensure full and sensitive communication around all aspects of requests for information, and to consider locally whether there is a need for any further publicity. In cases following a coronial post mortem, family members can request a copy of the report via the coroner's office.