A Cumbrian tragedy

I am almost speechless at the report of Michael Redfern QC's inquiry into the postumous removal of body parts from deceased Sellafield workers.

The tragedy is that treating the families of the deceased in this underhand and shabby way was so unnecessary.

If it were possible that I had been exposed to radiation, and I was asked by a duly authorised person for permission after my death to remove parts of my body and check for contamination, so as to help protect people from future hazards, there is a very strong possibility that I would agree.

In fact the decision would rest with my heirs, and again, if they were properly asked in a sensitive way, I would hope they would similarly give permission.

I'm not going to go into detail, but a close relative of mine did indicate during their lifetime that they would be happy for parts of their body to be used after their death to help others. When that person died the rest of the family gave consent and those wishes were carried out. It actually helped us in our grief to know that the person concerned was for one final time helping someone else.

That is not what happened at Sellafield. If those who were conducting the research had done the decent thing, and asked the families concerned, some might have said no, and that would have been their absolute right. It is, however, very likely that provided proper assurances were given - and seen to be kept - that the bodies would be treated with respect, enough co-operation would have been forthcoming to enable the research to take place. We will now never know.

But even those who would have agreed to the research if asked are fully entitled to be furious that parts of their loved ones' bodies were effectively stolen without their permission.

Indeed, part of the tragedy is that the loss trust which this disgraceful episode may cause is likely to make it harder for more ethical researchers to gain such consent in future.

The Secretary of State has apologised for what happened and said that what happened to the bodies of Sellafield workers would not be permissible today. Both this givernment and all future governments must make sure that it does not happen again.


Anonymous said…
Don't just lay the blame with Sellafield its a scandal that encompasses the whole country. There were just reasons for the research but its the actions and attitude of those who were complicit in allowing this scandal where the real problem lies - Hospitals, Pathologists, Coroners, even Unions they are all implicated.
Chris Whiteside said…
Didn't think I did suggest it was just Sellafield. You are quite right that just about every part of the system of power in this country and particularly in Cumbria was implicated.

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