Seanad debates

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Hospital Investigations

10:30 am

Photo of Tim LombardTim Lombard (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I want the Minister for the Health to make a statement on the disposal of baby organs in Cork University Hospital.This is probably one of the most troubling cases I have come across in my workload in recent weeks.

On 28 September, an "RTÉ Investigates" programme showed an unfortunate incident in the maternity hospital in Cork, where 18 families were told the news that their children's organs had been disposed of. Subsequent to that, one of those families contacted my office and they were very irate about how this was dealt with. I have had two meetings with them about this issue. Seventeen families were informed of the news; the 18th family found out on the eve of the programme's broadcast. On 28 September, one family got a phone call to inform them that an "RTÉ Investigates" programme would be aired that night with evidence relating to this issue outlined. They were told their poor baby's organs were cremated, but they were actually incinerated. They were not aware of all the evidence until they watched the "RTÉ Investigates" programme. It was a shocking programme in many ways. It involved 18 families and a breach of faith in respect of the organs of their loved ones who died. The 18th family had hoped and agreed that the organs of their child would be buried in the angels' plot in CUH, which was appropriate. They had the child baptised according to their religious beliefs. They wanted the child to be part of their family. That was all shattered when they got the news, literally on "RTÉ Investigates", that the organs of their deceased child had been incinerated in Belgium alongside waste. There has been a breach of faith here that will take an awful lot of work to rebuild. We need an urgent review of how this happened and, more importantly, an urgent review of this case in particular. One family was not informed. One family found out only on the eve of the programme's broadcast. One family had to sit down, watch the programme and learn that way where their child's organs ended up. That was inappropriate.

There needs to be a better way to do business. I have been involved in public life since 2003. Never have I seen a case such as this. We have no real line of communication put in place that would have ensured that these families were appropriately informed of the evidence of what had happened and how the breach of trust had happened.

We have a body of work to do. I will forward the Minister of State the information on this family after this session. The family needs to be contacted not by liaison people from CUH but by the senior staff of CUH and the HSE to explain who was involved and how it transpired that they were not made aware of this incident until hours before information on it was aired on RTÉ. There also needs to be a major change in the law. My understanding is that there is only a guideline for how these loved ones' organs are dealt with in a morgue. That is not appropriate. We now need legislation brought before the Houses of the Oireachtas to ensure that people are empowered such that when it comes to these issues they have the law on their side, they have the right to make sure justice will be done and their loved ones' organs will be taken care of appropriately.

This is a frightening case. It is beyond belief. It is a betrayal of human life and a betrayal of so many families. We need to come clean here. We need to deal with this family. We also need to deal with the law and we all need to put in place an assurance that never, ever again will we have a scenario in which organs are shipped to Belgium as waste and incinerated without the approval of the family. It is a sin and a crime, and I hope the Department will take heed and do something about these issues.


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