A rogue doctor who stripped internal organs from hundreds of dead children, leaving their bodies as little more than shells, will be banned from ever working in Britain again, the government said today.
Dr. Dick van Velzen, a Dutch pathologist from Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool, in northern England, lied to parents and doctors, stole medical records and falsified reports to cover up his activities, Health Secretary Alan Milburn told parliament.
"He [van Velzen] systematically ordered the unethical and illegal stripping of every organ from every child who had had a post mortem," Milburn said.
"It is hard to imagine the trauma and anguish which each of the Alder Hey parents faced when, many years later, they discovered that their child's body had not been buried intact as they believed, but had been stripped of their entire internal organs, leaving the body as a shell."
Milburn, detailing an inquiry into organ removal at the hospital, said that as well as retaining the hearts of more than 2,000 children, pathologists at Alder Hey had removed and stored "a number of children's heads and bodies," "large numbers of brain parts, eyes taken from fetuses" and more than 15,000 stillborn babies or fetuses."
The health minister promised to change the law to ensure that no organs could be removed from patients without informed consent and to make it a criminal offense to ignore consent.
He said Van Velzen, who worked at Alder Hey between 1988 and 1995, would never work again in Britain.
"Professor van Velzen must never be allowed to practice again in this country," he said.
The investigation into Alder Hey has gripped public attention in Britain because of disquiet about the state of the National Health Service and the perceived arrogance of the medical profession.
The probe was launched in December 1999 after the hospital admitted that between 1988 and 1995 staff had removed and stored organs from hundreds of children without the consent or knowledge of their parents.
The report does not cover two further organ scandals at the hospital, which have since come to light.
Last week Alder Hey admitted taking tissue from thymus glands of live patients during surgery and giving them to research companies in return for money. Last year it emerged the Liverpool hospital was also storing up to 400 fetuses from still-births and abortions without the knowledge of the parents.
British media reports today said that Van Velzen, who is reportedly now working in The Hague, is also wanted by Canadian authorities in connection with a stash of children's organs discovered in a Nova Scotia warehouse.
Milburn said authorities would probably never know for sure what happened to each of the organs removed from children.
"What we do now know is that the vast majority of organs which were taken were never used for medical research," he said.
"Parents cannot even take comfort in the knowledge that their children's organs were used to help other children."
"The pain caused to the parents by the dreadful sequence of events is unforgivable," he said.