Parents celebrate organs ruling

Key points

• Parents whose deceased children had organs removed without consent win right to compensation

• Ruling only applies where organs removed at hospital autopsies, not coroners' post mortems

• Ruling could cost NHS up to 10m

Key quote: "The doctors were guilty of negligence and provided that we can show psychiatric damage then they are entitled to damages." Solicitor Mervyn Fudge.

Story in full: BEREAVED families whose children’s organs were removed and stored without their knowledge or consent, won a partial victory yesterday when a judge ruled that the majority of them should be awarded compensation.

The judge, Sir William Gage, said the families whose children’s organs were removed during hospital post-mortem examinations - two-thirds of the 2,140 families who launched the High Court battle - could seek compensation from the local health authorities involved. He said, in those cases, the hospital authorities had been negligent.

A lawyer representing some of the families described the ruling as a "historic victory" and estimated that the NHS would face a total payout of about 10 million.

The court action focused on three lead cases involving the removal and retention of organs from babies Rosina Harris, Daniel Carpenter and Laura Shorter, who died between 1987 and 1995. The parents, who claimed the practice was morally and ethically "objectionable", said yesterday’s ruling would ensure no-one would have to re-live their "nightmare".

But other parents of children whose organs were removed after coroners’ post-mortem examinations were left distressed and angry by the ruling.

The judge gave judgment in favour of Denise Shorter, whose daughter Laura was stillborn in an Oxford hospital. He rejected the other two claims, which related to coroners’ post-mortems rather than hospital autopsies.

The judge said that doctors routinely had not told families what was involved in hospital autopsies, in an attempt to spare them distress. A lawyer for the families said he was satisfied with the ruling.

"In the hospital post-mortem cases the judge has found the claimant was owed a duty of care and that was breached," said solicitor Mervyn Fudge. "The doctors were guilty of negligence and provided that we can show psychiatric damage then they are entitled to damages."

In a statement, the National Health Service Litigation Authority said the judge’s finding was "important and complex".

"This case arose because society decided that it wished its doctors to be more candid about what was involved in a post-mortem, as a result of which normal hospital practice up to about 1999 became outmoded," it said.

It added that it did not mean that doctors had not been acting in the interests of their patients.

Both sides are likely to consider an appeal.

'When I heard ... it was like I'd lost her all over again'


SITTING in her family home, her two daughters, Emily, aged nine, and Sophie, four, playing quietly, Denise Shorter described how she collapsed on learning that the brain and ovaries of her "flawless" first-born child had been retained after her death.

Laura, the child of Denise and her husband Brian, was stillborn in October 1992, but for a decade the family had been open about their loss, talking about her and visiting her grave.

That all changed when a letter to the grieving mother in 2001 confirmed that Laura’s brain had been retained, along with 25 blocks and slides of tissue, including 50 per cent of her ovaries.

Mrs Shorter, 37, from Oxford, said: "When I read the letter I just collapsed to the floor. It was like I’d lost her all over again.

"I can’t see her in the same light any more. I just feel so guilty that she’s not complete. I even went to see her to apologise."

"Psychiatrists have said I’m still grieving, which I am, I was and always will be."

She said that she had respect for the medical profession, but wanted stricter guidelines.

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