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Sydney, Australia morgue's alleged corpse experiments under investigation.

The head of Sydney, Australia's main morgue has been suspended while an inquiry is made into reports that the staff conducted unauthorized medical experiments on corpses.

A local television program revealed the corpse experiments at Sydney's Glebe morgue, describing the morgue as a "virtual body parts supermarket for medical researchers." Former morgue employees said lungs, brains, hearts, femurs, and other body parts were removed from corpses without the permission of relatives and kept in the morgue for medical experiments. According to one ex-employee, "doctors were allowed to come in if they had a particular research project...and get what they needed."

The alleged improprieties included a senior pathologist stabbing a corpse to study blood-spatter patterns and hitting a skull with a hammer to replicate injuries received in a bludgeoning murder and a plastic surgeon practicing nose jobs on corpses. In another incident, a former morgue attendant admitted to removing the spinal column from a body and replacing it with a broomstick.

During a televised interview, suspended morgue supervisor John Hilton, MD said that each year, about 1,000 bodies left the morgue for burial without a brain, and that removal of organs was all part of the normal postmortem examination process. When a person dies suddenly, mysteriously, or violently, a coroner performs a postmortem examination to determine the cause of death, Hilton explained. In these cases, the coroner does not have to seek family consent for the autopsy and can legally remove organs for postmortem study.

"A lot of the activities were at best unethical and potentially, illegal," said Craig Knowles, New South Wales State Health Minister, who ordered the investigation. "It is morally not defensible to assume that silence is assent. Whether its legal or illegal, it's simply an act of decency to get the informed consent of the next-of-kin."

Up to 25,000 body parts, including 900 infant hearts, are held in hospitals, universities, and museums in New South Wales. Many may have been taken without permission from relatives, according to an official audit conducted after revelations of the UK organ scandal. Two-thirds of the human organs and tissues were the result of donations or routine surgery, but one-third came from autopsies.

In releasing the audit last month, Knowles said human tissue laws would be amended, making it illegal to retain tissue from a postmortem or surgery without permission from the patient or next-of-kin.
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Title Annotation:International Pages; Government Activity
Comment:Sydney, Australia morgue's alleged corpse experiments under investigation.(Government Activity)(International Pages)
Publication:Transplant News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Mar 30, 2001
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