Obesity: The Post Mortem - Caring for our dead; looking after ourselves
A Blog by Caroline Browne (HTA Head of Regulation)
I joined the Human Tissue Authority (HTA) in 2006, in fact almost ten years to the day! Not long before that, I had experienced personally the anguish caused by what I considered to be an uncaring system, following the death of a loved one. I joined with a commitment to do what I could to improve the way we care for our dead as well as those who are left behind. I wanted to raise standards and promote practice which centred on respect for the deceased and sensitivity to the bereaved.
The HTA sprung into life in 2005, following events in the 90s which revealed a culture in hospitals where the removal and retention of human tissue and organs happened without the knowledge and consent of families. Our primary aim as a regulator is to ensure that human tissue and organs are used safely, ethically, and with proper consent – a fundamental principle of the Act – and that, in doing so, we maintain public confidence. We believe that patients and their families will have more confidence in the system when they can see that their wishes are respected, in death as much as in life.
When the production company 7 Wonder contacted the HTA about their plan to make a documentary featuring a post-mortem examination, I was pleased that they had come to us as early as they did. It was clear from the outset that they wanted to understand and act in accordance with statutory and regulatory requirements, but also that they wanted the content of the programme to be instructive and the tone to be respectful.
We neither endorsed nor opposed the making of the programme – filming a post-mortem falls outside of the scope of the Human Tissue Act. However, as a public body with a role in protecting the public and ensuring public confidence, we were sympathetic to the aspirations of the programme makers. So I was happy to provide advice to ensure that all those involved in the making of the film were aware of the core principles that underpin our work, and adopted these in the making of the programme. These principles are consent, dignity, quality and honesty and openness.
Of course, the post-mortem itself had to take place on premises licensed by the HTA, so there were regulatory requirements that had to be met too.
The film is quite graphic at times; looking inside a body requires it to be opened and the organs removed in order that they can be examined. It is in this way that we can learn more about why the person died.
We believe that the film sends some very useful messages, and will no doubt generate debate, as well as raising awareness of the significant health risks that obesity presents. I hope it will succeed in highlighting to young people in particular the impact and dangers of obesity, and perhaps encourage them to look at their lifestyle and make some changes.
Of course we mustn’t forget the donor and her family, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
Anyone who decides to donate their body, an organ such as a brain, or other tissue, is giving a valuable gift, which will be used to train doctors and other healthcare professionals, or for important research into medical conditions and how they might be prevented or cured.
For more information on how to become a body donor or to learn more about our regulation of the post-mortem sector, please see our website here…