An investigation has been launched at Cork University Maternity Hospital after a number of baby organs were incinerated abroad without the consent of the parents involved.
RTÉ investigates has learned that the incinerations occurred on two separate occasions last year when the organs of 18 babies were sent to Belgium along with clinical waste.
According to HSE standards, when organs are retained for post-mortems, hospitals are required to support the next of kin by facilitating their return or arranging their sensitive disposal by burial or cremation only.
However, the hospital contacted the 18 families to inform them that the organs of their deceased babies, the majority of whom had died months earlier, had been incinerated across two days in March and April.
One of the 18 affected families, Leona Birmingham and her partner Glenn Callanan, had lost their son Lee after he was born in September 2019.
Leona told RTÉ Investigates, “They shocked me to say the organs that they retained have been incinerated and we won’t be able to get them back,”.
Internal hospital correspondence seen by RTÉ Investigates shows that mortuary staff at Cork University Hospital were aware that its burial space was full for internment organs while adding that unsuccessful attempts were made to find an alternative plot. It was also decided that cremation was not an option.
As a result, multiple baby organs lay in storage in the morgue, for several months in some cases.
With the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the potential for increased deaths meant that the hospital needed to free up space in the mortuary, prompting the decision to send the organs abroad for incineration.
It was a decision made out of “absolute necessity and desperation”, according to the hospital correspondence.
A statement issued to RTÉ investigates on behalf of Cork University Hospital apologised “that this distressing incident has occurred … under very extenuating and unprecedented circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Department of Health told RTÉ investigates that the HSE will now confirm that all hospitals nationally are in compliance with the HSE’s standard for post-mortem examinations.
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