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BODIES REVEALED - IN DA HOUSE

04-02-2010

The controversial “Bodies Revealed” exhibition may have left own at the end of the last week- but as Stirrer blogger Dr David Nicholl (who broke the story) reveals) the debate isn’t over. Last week, Dr Richard Taylor, MP raised the matter in the House of Commons and Doc Dave spoke to Premier Exhibitions about allegations made by a whistleblower.

First, here's the government's written response from Gillian Merron MP, a junior minister in the Dept of Health.

“The Human Tissue Act 2004 requires that these matters be dealt with through the preparation and issue of a Code of Practice by the Human Tissue Authority. It remains the Government’s view that this is the right approach. The Human Tissue Authority published a Code of Practice on the import and export of human bodies, body parts and tissue in May 2007.

In relation to imports, the Code says “Good practice requires that effective and reliable processes should be in place for acquiring evidence of informed consent from the prospective donor.

This means that the importer should have in place policies and/or Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which clearly set out the evidence indicating how informed consent was obtained, including safeguarding the confidentiality of all information relating to consent”.

In relation to exports, the Code of Practice says “SLAs [Service Level Agreements] should be in place to ensure that human bodies, body parts and tissue to be exported from England, Wales and Northern Ireland are used in accordance with the consent that has been obtained.”

However, for imported tissue, it is a code of practice, it is not legally binding.

This information has been confirmed in a letter from Adrian McNeil, the Chief Executive of the HTA, to my MP, Julie Kirkbride.

Mr McNeil writes “The exhibition’s organizer, the Big Cat Group, completed an on-line licence application

"As the consent requirements of the HT Act do not apply to human tissue that has been imported, the HTA can and does ask for, but cannot require, confirmation that consent has been obtained to display these plastinated bodies.”

"The HTA was provided with documentation confirming that the US owners of the plastinated specimens had sourced them from a plastination facility in China.

"Affidavits from the Chinese corporations which provided the bodies stated that they were all from deceased people who died from natural causes and were either unclaimed or donated by their families

"Given the limitations of our statutory powers… we do not consider that the HTA is able to investigate further.”

After the Mail-on-Sunday story, I was approached by a whistleblower who allegedly had worked for Premier exhibitions, the US based organizer of the exhibition. The whistleblower made a number of specific allegations regarding the exhibitions.

Last week, I had the opportunity to put those allegations to Dr Roy Glover, Medical Director of Premier Exhibitions (in an overtly taped conference call) as well as the questions raised by the exhibition. Premier strongly refute the allegations, which could not be repeated for legal reasons.

With regard to consent, Dr Glover stated that Premier’s Chinese partners had consent for “education and research” but, despite being asked, was unable to state if consent had been obtained for commercial exploitation and publication as part of such an exhibition.

Despite much effort, I’m still none the wiser as to who these bodies were, what they died of, what was on their death certificate and whether anyone has done a toxicology screen (for barbiturates, for example, a common mode of execution by lethal injection).

It is that uncertainty that makes me absolutely clear that the law needs tightening. If you think so, sign the petition that was the basis of the Daily Telegraph letter here so that, after the election, we can lobby the new government for a change in the law.

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