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Importance Of Informed Consent Recognised

Patients' hearts kept at Auckland's Greenlane Hospital have advanced medical research and enabled the hospital to help many babies who are born each year with heart defects, the New Zealand Medical Association says.

"However," said NZMA Chairman Dr John Adams, "it is disturbing to hear that some of the hearts kept at Greenlane were taken without the consent of the babies' parents, which appears to be unethical."

"We understand this practice is no longer happening, and for the past year Greenlane has been examining this issue to find out the best way of putting things right."

Dr Adams said the Cartwright Inquiry in 1988 highlighted the importance of informed consent, and the medical profession recognises the significance of this issue.

"While it seems that consent was sought and given for most of the hearts obtained by Greenlane since then, it appears that the hospital's processes were inconsistent and unfortunately some hearts were obtained without consent."

Dr Adams said that in earlier decades the issue of consent was not viewed in the same way, but society and medicine have moved on since then, and medical practices have changed.

Another way the medical profession develops is by the regular updating of the Code of Ethics by the NZMA. A new version of the Code is expected to be approved later this month, which has clear rules around teaching and research.

"There is no question that the doctors and researchers kept the hearts for the best of reasons, that is, to find out why these babies died and to try to prevent further deaths of this nature," Dr Adams concluded.


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