Human Organs Inquiry

About the Human Organs Inquiry 

The Human Organs Inquiry, chaired by John O'Hara QC, was established in 2001 to allow better understanding of what has happened since the Human Tissue Act (NI) 1962 became law in terms of post mortems and specifically in terms of removal, retention, storage and disposal of organs and tissue.  The Inquiry Report was published in June 2002 and the then Minister of Health accepted all 20 of the Inquiry's Recommendations. 

Since then the Department has taken action in respect of all the recommendations.  Key elements have included:

(a) a public information campaign, in conjunction with the Relatives’ Reference Group, that included mailing leaflets to every household in Northern Ireland;

(b) a dedicated telephone enquiry line from November 2002 to March 2005 (and ongoing arrangements within individual Trusts to continue to respond to telephone enquiries as necessary);

(c) The Human Tissue Act 2004, in which Northern Ireland is enjoined with England and Wales;

(d) The Human Tissue Authority created under the new legislation as the regulating body for all matters concerning the removal, retention, use and disposal of human tissue (excluding gametes and whole blood) for specific purposes;

(e) A Code of Good Practice on Post Mortem Examinations; a Careplan for Women who experience a Miscarriage, Stillbirth or Neonatal Death; and new consent forms and guidance booklets to be used in respect of Hospital Post Mortem Examinations;

(f) permanent memorials in Belfast City Hall and Ballyoan Cemetery dedicated to the memory of all those whose organs and tissue were removed without the knowledge or consent of families following post mortem examinations;

(g) A regional network, comprising 5 area co-ordinators, for the development of bereavement care standards and training.

The Human Tissue Act 2004

The Government introduced legislation in the 2003/2004 Parliamentary session to regulate the removal, storage and use of Human Organs and Tissue. The Human Tissue Act 2004 received Royal Assent on 15th November 2004. 

The Act 

  • streamlines and updates current law on organs and tissue so that current gaps and anomalies are put right and the system is made fit for the 21st century;
  • provides safeguards and penalties to prevent a recurrence of the distress caused by retention of tissue and organs without proper consent. 
  • sets up an overarching authority which will rationalise existing regulation and will introduce regulation of post mortems and the retention of tissue for purposes like education and research;
  • provides for the Human Tissue Authority to issue Codes of practice giving practical guidance on the conduct of activities within its remit:
  • will help improve public confidence so that people will be more willing to agree to valuable uses of tissue and organs like research and transplantation; and 
  • will improve professional confidence so that properly authorised supplies of tissue for research, education and transplantation can be maintained or improved. 

The Human Tissue Authority 

The Human Tissue Act 2004 established the Human Tissue Authority. The HTA regulate organisations that remove, store and use human tissue for research, medical treatment, post-mortem examination, education and training, and display in public and give approval for organ and bone marrow donations from living people. The HTA also issue guidance for the public and professionals. 

Related Regulations 

The Human Tissue Act 2004 (Powers of Entry and Search: Supply of Information) Regulations 2006

The Human Tissue Act 2004 (Persons who Lack Capacity to Consent and Transplants) Regulations 2006

The Human Tissue Act 2004 (Ethical Approval, Exceptions from Licensing and Supply of Information about Transplants) Regulations 2006

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