Press Release

Minister Martin announces organ inquiry

The Minister for Health and Children today announced the details of the Inquiry to review post mortem examination policy, practice and procedure in the State since 1970.

The Minister stressed the importance of holding an inquiry for the following reasons;

  • to independently establish the full facts in regard to past practice relating to post mortem examinations and related matters;
  • to restore full public confidence in hospitals and in the necesssity for post mortem examinations including organ retention for such purposes as further diagnoses;
  • to provide public assurance that any previous practice which might now be judged unacceptable will not recur. The inquiry will provide for publicly acceptable protocols to apply to all hospitals where post-mortem examinations are carried out.;
  • to establish the full facts relating to the practices adopted for ultimately dealing with retained organs including any arrangements with pharmaceutical companies in relation to those retained organs.

Following the Cabinet meeting today the Minister has detailed the format of the inquiry which will essentially be in Two Phases. The first phase of the inquiry will be headed up by Anne Dunne SC who is one of this country’s most prominent barristers (see Appendix 1 attached).

The Minister acknowledges that considerable trauma and sorrow has been revisited on parents and next of kin by the disclosures in recent months relating to post-mortem examinations.It is hoped that the Inquiry will provide a new context in which the issues can be dealt with. He recognises that everybody affected is anxious for a professional inquiry which will allow for the full facts to emerge.

The terms of reference require that the report will be available within six months and will record that the inquiry received all the necessary co-operation and information it required.

While the inquiry is empowered to look at relevant issues in any hospital in the State it has been asked in particular to examine the application of post mortem examination policies, practices and procedures in the Dublin maternity hospitals, the Children’s hospitals at Temple St and Crumlin and the major academic teaching hospitals in the State.

On completion of the first phase of the inquiry and on receipt of its report the Minister will table a motion that the inquiry report will be presented to the Oireachtas Joint Committee On Health And Children. The Committee has powers of compellability and discoverability available to it under the Committees of the Houses of the Oireachtas (Compellability, Privileges and Immunities of Witnesses) Act 1997.

Minister Martin recognises that this is an extremely sensitive area for many people and he appreciates the co-operation and support which he has received from many organisations and individuals in determining the aspects of the inquiry which will acknowledge these sensitivities. He is confident that the inquiry will assist everybody concerned in moving forward in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect between patients and service providers to the benefit of all those who rely on our health services.

Anne Dunne, S.C.

Anne Dunne S.C. is a highly respected specialist in Family Law and the Law relating to children. Called to the bar in 1979, she was made a senior counsel in 1991. She served for a number of years as a member of the Bar Council and acted as secretary to the Council of the king’s Inns, the institution which is responsible for educating prospective Barristers. She continues to be a member of the latter and a senior member of it’s education committee. She has, in the past, been involved with FLAC and was a founding member of the Family lawyers Association. She is currently a Vice President of the International Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

Terms of Reference

To review post mortem examination policy, practice and procedure in the State since 1970, and in particular as it relates to organ removal, retention, storage and disposal by reference to prevailing standards both in and outside of the State, to examine the application of these policies, practices and procedures in hospitals generally and in particular their application in the hospitals listed in the Appendix.

The inquiry will address the hospitals’ policies, practices and procedure in this area of organ removal, retention, storage and disposal, the necessity for such practices and the manner in which they were carried out. The inquiry will take account of best practice regarding post-mortem examinations in and outside of the State together with the reasonable expectations of parents of deceased children and next of kin in such circumstance. In particular, the inquiry will:

  1. examine the hospitals’ policies and practices relating to obtaining consent from parents and next of kin for post-mortem examinations, organ removal, retention, storage and disposal;
  2. examine the hospitals’ procedures and practices relating to retained organs, including the reasons for such retention, the hospitals’ management of such retention and storage of organs (including record keeping) and of any other arrangements relating to such organs and the practices adopted for ultimately dealing with retained organs including any arrangements with pharmaceutical companies in relation to those retained organs;
  3. review the nature and appropriateness of the hospitals’ overall response to parents of children and next of kin of persons on whom a post-mortem examination was performed.
  4. examine any specific cases in any hospital as it deems appropriate in relation to post-mortem examinations and post-mortem examination related matters.

However, it will be at the discretion of the inquiry to examine any other relevant matters which arise in the course of the inquiry in relation to post-mortem examination policy, practice and procedure in the State since 1970.

The inquiry will make its final report, including its findings, to the Minister for Health and Children within six months unless otherwise determined by the Minister. It will make recommendations to the Minister on any changes it considers necessary on foot of its findings.

The report will include confirmation that the inquiry received all the information and co-operation from health agencies, persons employed therein and any other persons which it considered necessary to form its opinions and to arrive at its conclusions. In the event of deficiencies arising in these areas which the inquiry considers materially limited the scope of its investigations the report will identify same.