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The Alder Hey affair: implications for pathology practice
  1. J L Burton,
  2. M Wells
  1. Academic Unit of Pathology, Division of Genomic Medicine, University of Sheffield Medical School, Beech Hill Road, Sheffield S10 2RX, UK

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    In recent years, the general public's confidence in the medical profession has been damaged by several serious incidents and the media fuelled storms that have followed. Notable among these are the murders committed by the general practitioner Harold Shipman, the inquiry into cervical screening at Kent and Canterbury, the activities of the gynaecologist Rodney Ledward, the Bristol Heart inquiry, and the inquiry into the retention of paediatric organs at the Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital NHS Trust (the “Alder Hey inquiry”). Of these, the Alder Hey inquiry is notable in that it will continue to have serious ramifications for the practice of morbid anatomy and surgical pathology.

    The Royal Liverpool Children's inquiry was announced in December 1999 to investigate the removal, retention, and disposal of human organs and tissues following postmortem examinations at the Royal Liverpool Children's Hospital NHS Trust. Published in January 2001, the report highlights a catalogue of failures within the NHS Trust, the University of Liverpool, and the Liverpool Coroner's Office, which allowed the systematic removal of organs between 1988 and 1995. In many cases, these organs were removed without informed consent, were not subsequently subjected to histological examination or used for educational or research purposes, and preliminary postmortem reports were left unfinished.1

    In this article, it is not our intention to comment on the activities of Professor van Velzen, which have rightly shocked both the public and the profession. Equally, we would not wish, in any way, to belittle or add to the distress caused to the families involved in the Alder Hey inquiry. Rather, some months after its publication and, when to a large extent, the media furore has subsided, we reflect on the wider implications of the Alder Hey report for diagnostic histopathology.

    Despite the best efforts of the senior officers of the Royal …

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