Investigation at Irish hospital after baby organs sent for incineration without consent
The organs of 18 Irish babies were sent abroad for incineration in 2020 without the knowledge or consent of their bereaved parents.
An RTÉ Investigates report which will air on Prime Time tonight (Tuesday, 28 September) reveals that an investigation is underway at Cork University Maternity Hospital after it was discovered multiple baby organs were sent abroad for incineration without the knowledge or consent of their parents.
The report outlines that in April 2019, Cork couple Leona Bermingham and Glenn Callanan discovered they were expecting twins but at their 16-week scan they were given news that there was complications with one of them.
On 18 September, the couple's twin boys, Lee and Lewis, were delivered at 33 weeks by emergency c-section at Cork University Maternity Hospital and hours later baby Lee sadly died.
Due to the circumstances of Lee’s death, Leona and Glenn were encouraged to agree to a post-mortem, RTÉ reports.
In mid-May 2020, Leona received an unexpected call from Cork University Maternity Hospital to say that the organs that they retained belonging to Lee had been incinerated and they would not be able to get them back.
Six months after this, the hospital eventually arranged to meet with Leona and Glenn who were told it was Lee's brain that the hospital kept and that the brain was incinerated abroad in Antwerp in Belgium.
"My son's brain went into a bin, as if it was a piece of rubbish. You put rubbish in a bin, why would you put my beautiful son's brain into a bin," Leona told RTÉ Investigates.
Documentation released to Leona and Glenn under Freedom of Information legislation revealed they were not the only family affected as the organs of a total of 18 babies were sent to Belgium for incineration without the knowledge or consent of their bereaved parents.
"There’s a big difference between burying or cremating an organ and incinerating it with clinical waste which could include the likes of dressings or needles," the family's solicitor Rachael Liston said.
Also to be revealed on Prime Time is that internal hospital correspondence shows mortuary staff were aware in early 2020 that its burial plot at St Mary’s Cemetery in Curraghkippane was full and staff were “… unable to secure appropriate burial space for internment of organs…” elsewhere.
Meanwhile, they decided cremation was not an option and the result was that multiple baby organs which had been released by the pathology department following post-mortem lay in storage in the hospital’s morgue, in some cases for several months.
Then in March 2020 with Covid-19 and the possibility of increased deaths, space needed to be freed up in the mortuary at Cork University Hospital.
As a result, a decision was made to send the organs for incineration. In all, organs and tissue from 18 babies were incinerated in Belgium across two days in late March and early April 2020, according to RTÉ Investigates.
In mid-May 2020, hospital management sent an incident report to the Department of Health.
RTÉ Investigates understands management did not rate the incident as serious but that they did express concerns about adverse publicity for the hospital if it came to public attention.
Senior medical staff at the hospital disputed those comments and wrote to the HSE stating there was a significant risk for parental distress.
In a statement to RTÉ Investigates, the South/South West Hospital Group said it refuted any suggestion it was more concerned with adverse publicity.
With regard to post-mortem practices in hospitals nationally, the Department of Health told RTÉ Investigates: “The HSE will now confirm… that they are in compliance with the HSE’s Standards… for Post-mortem Examinations 2012.”
The South/South West Hospital Group confirmed to RTÉ it has commissioned an investigation into the events that led to the incineration of baby organs.
17 months after the incident first came to the attention of hospital management, the review is reported to be only at an early stage.
The full RTÉ Investigates report on Prime Time airs on Tuesday at 9.35pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.
You can watch a preview of the episode below.
Clip via RTÉ