Press Release

Statement of the Department of Health and Children on the Post Mortem Inquiry

The Government set up the Dunne Post Mortem Inquiry in 2000 to review post mortem examination policy, practice and procedure in the State since 1970, in particular as it relates to organ removal, retention, storage and disposal by reference to prevailing standards both in and outside of the State, and related matters. The Inquiry is independent and conducts its work in private.   Since its establishment the Inquiry has collected and continues to collect a huge volume of information on post mortem practice in the State since 1970.

The Department of Health and Children is very conscious of the need by many people to have the fullest possible information on post mortem issues.  It also appreciates that these matters cause very considerable distress to individuals and families involved and would like to express sympathy with all those concerned.

The Department became aware of issues relating to post mortem practice in May 1999 through contact made by a hospital to the Office of the Chief Medical Officer about issues relating to pathology and post mortem practice in that hospital.  Following this there was a series of meetings with Parents for Justice, and consultation with other bodies, which led to the establishment of the Dunne Post Mortem Inquiry.

In parallel with this national protocols on practices and procedures, which include informed consent, were developed to cover the issue of consent by hospitals.  The practice of removing organs without consent no longer takes place.

The specific issue of pituitary glands being used in the manufacture of growth hormone products emerged in February 2000, when a pharmaceutical company issued a press statement on the matter.

On further examination of this issue, it was evident that the collection of pituitaries at post-mortems was a practice both in this country and worldwide from the 60s to the mid 80s, because of the non availability of any treatment for growth disorders. The glands were used to manufacture a drug for use in the treatment of these disorders in children.  Up until that time there was no effective treatment for these conditions. In 1985 a synthetic drug became available and this practice ceased.  This issue is among the issues being examined by the Post Mortem Inquiry.

The terms of reference of the Dunne Inquiry, which were published in 2000, are to review all post mortem examination policy, practice and procedure in the State since 1970.  The Minister at that time stressed that the reasons for holding the inquiry included:

  • To establish the full facts relating to the practices adopted for ultimately dealing with retained organs including and arrangements with pharmaceutical companies in relation to those retained organs.
  • To restore full public confidence in hospitals and in the necessity of post mortem examinations including organ retention for such purposes as further diagnosis
  • To provide public assurance that any previous practice which might now be judged unacceptable will not occur.

All hospitals and other agencies in the State involved in post mortem practice have been communicating with the Inquiry.  Thus far two pharmaceutical firms have confirmed that recent information in the public arena has already been submitted to the Inquiry.  Those involved in the removal of pituitary glands should have submitted all relevant information to the Inquiry as part of their overall submission.

The issues involved in post mortem are complex and the Chairman in her interim report in 2002 noted that she had already considered in excess of 150,000 pages of documentation. The Minister expects to have a full report on paediatric hospitals by the end of this year.

In order to help answer questions which parents may have a National Helpline will come into operation next Monday morning at 9.00 a.m.   However, it should be remembered that information will be dependant on the availability of hospital records.  Health boards and hospitals are most anxious to make as much information available as possible.  Any individual or family who wishes to have further information should contact the Helpline at 1800 45 45 00.

For any new information that individuals may have on any aspect of post mortem policies or procedures the Minister urges that this would be submitted to the Dunne Inquiry Office at 3rd Floor, 2/3 Parnell Square East, Dublin 1,  Phone: 8870042, Fax; 8870056.