UK pathologist struck off for secretly taking children's organs

A pathologist in the UK has been struck off the UK medical register for secretly ordering the removal of organs from hundreds of dead children's bodies.

Professor Dick van Velzen was banned from practising after the General Medical Council (GMC) found him guilty of serious professional misconduct.

Over a six year period in the pathology department at Liverpool's Alder Hey Hospital 56 year old Professor van Velzen, took organs from children's bodies without the relatives' consent.

During an investigation into the retention scandal more than 2,000 pots containing body parts from about 850 infants were discovered at the hospital.

Van Velzen was struck off by a GMC Fitness to Practise Panel sitting in Manchester last week, the panel found almost all charges proven against the doctor who is originally from Oegstgeest in Holland.

A former laboratory officer at Alder Hey, Paul Dearlove, told the panel that van Velzen kept pots of body parts in a "filthy" cellar.

Following a three-week hearing into his conduct, the GMC decided to permanently erase Prof van Velzen from the medical register.

The GMC must now make a decision on whether to allow him 28 days to lodge an appeal or to strike him off immediately.

The pathologist did not attend any of the hearings and was not legally represented.

When the disciplinary hearing started Professor van Velzen told representatives from the GMC he did not wish to know anything about the proceedings.

Ian Chisholm, the chairman of the panel, said that Professor van Velzen had retained organs without permission and effectively lied to the parents of dead children.

He said the professor's actions were a violation of the children's bodies, and undermined the trust placed in medical practitioners to such an extent that it had damaged the medical processional as a whole.

Parents who were directly affected by the scandal said yesterday they were delighted with the decision and members of the PITY II support group called for him to be banned from practising across the world.

Alice Proctor, the group's spokeswoman, says they hope that the ruling will reach further than the UK and feel very strongly that Van Velzen should never be allowed to practise pathology again anywhere in the world.

The scandal began in September 1988 when van Velzen was appointed to the chair of foetal and infant pathology at Liverpool University and became honorary consultant paediatric pathologist at Alder Hey Hospital.

His role was to carry out post-mortem examinations and write up reports, but while predecessors had stored glass slides or small "blocks" of tissue from children's organs, Professor van Velzen retained thousands of pots of whole organs without their parents' consent.

Some parents eventually had to carry out two funerals for their children.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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