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Anticipating the Redfern inquiry: a historical note about tissue retention and consent
  1. A S McNeish
  1. Queen Mary, University of London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Alexander S McNeish, Professor Emeritus of Clinical Science, 128 Westfield Road, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 3JQ, UK; asmcneish{at}

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The report from Mr Michael Redfern QC is expected imminently, on his inquiry into the circumstances in which, from 1955, organs/tissue were removed from individuals at National Health Service (NHS) or other facilities, and sent to and analysed at nuclear laboratory facilities.1 The majority of these studies will have been carried out during a time when the provisions of the Human Tissue Act 1961 (“1961 Act”) were in force.2

It is certain that the present inquiry will have dealt with issues of “tissue retention” and “consent”, concepts that played such a large part in the findings of the Bristol3 and Liverpool (Alder Hey)4 Inquiries. It will be recalled that the clinical practices examined in Bristol and Liverpool, and for which pathologists and indeed the wider medical profession were so severely criticised, of organ and tissue retention with or without consent, had been subject to the provisions of the 1961 Act. It was and is of more than passing interest that the wording of the 1961 Act contained neither of the terms “retention” nor “consent”. Instead, the 1961 Act provided only for “the removal of any part of the body for use for the said purposes”5 [therapeutic purposes, or for medical education …

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  • Competing interests None.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.

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