Last year, the parents of 18 babies born at Cork University Maternity Hospital were informed that their children's organs were sent to Belgium for incineration, without their knowledge or consent. This happened on two occasions between March and April 2020. The bereaved parents had believed that the organs of their babies, who had been subject to autopsy, would be cremated or buried in a sensitive and dignified manner and that they would be contacted before this happened. As we now know, none of that happened. These revelations were met with understandable public outrage and we can only ever imagine the extreme hurt and distress that these families have experienced.
A review of practices at Cork University Maternity Hospital was commenced at that time and a HSE internal audit to establish the organ-retention and disposal practices at public hospitals across the board. That audit, according to media reports, reveals that the inappropriate disposal of organs was still in use at that time, at University Hospital Limerick and our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda. Incredibly, the same month that the review got under way into the scandal at Cork University Maternity Hospital, the organs of two babies born in University Hospital Limerick were sent for incineration, again to Belgium.
The investigation has also uncovered that multiple public hospitals across the State have retained organs from children for more than the one year specified by HSE policy. This happened in hospitals in Dublin, Tullamore, Limerick, Waterford and Port Laoise. At Crumlin children's hospital, the organs of one child were kept, it seems, for more than 20 years. The breaches of care and dignity with regard to the treatment of organs are widespread and these revelations have emerged when the families affected by the initial scandal at Cork University Maternity Hospital are still waiting for answers.
These parents have been told on four separate occasions that there will be a delay in giving them the report of the review team despite the fact that the review is complete. These are parents who lost their babies in tragic circumstances and had to endure the heartache of hearing that their child's organs were disposed of, alongside medical waste. Ms Katie Quilligan is one of those. Her son, James, was one of the 18 babies and she says:
we are still waiting for answers... I don’t think I’ll be able to fully accept or process what happened until we get those answers. Waiting is like going through the grieving process all over again ... the HSE is letting us down.
I am sure that the Taoiseach agrees that all of this is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that these parents are still kept in the dark. They were also promised the speedy delivery of legislation to protect the legal guidelines around the retention and disposal of human organs and tissue. The human tissue Bill was due to be published by the end of last year, but this too has been delayed and has caused stress and frustration. Tá teaghlaigh ag streachailt agus tá an Stát ag teip go dona orthu. Tá freagraí ag teastáil ó na teaghlaigh seo agus caithfidh an Rialtas reachtaíocht a chur i bhfeidhm atá ag teastáil chun a chinntiú nach féidir lena leithéid tarlú arís.
I am certain that everyone in this Dáil wants to make this right. I am certain that we need absolute assurances that these practices have ceased and that this is not currently happening in our hospitals. When will the parents affected by the scandal at Cork University Maternity Hospital be given the review report, which is now complete? When will that wider audit of hospitals beyond Cork be published?