Grieving parents angry at delay in baby organs incineration report

Parents whose babies’ organs were sent for incineration without their knowledge were told the review would be available by November 2021

Leona Bermingham and Glenn Callanan’s baby son Lee died just hours after Ms Bermingham gave birth to him, and his twin brother Lewis, by emergency Caesarean section at 33 weeks gestation at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH) on September 18th, 2019.

It wasn’t until May 2020, when the Gurranebraher couple were contacted by nursing staff at CUMH, that they learned that Lee’s organs, which had been removed at autopsy at the mortuary at Cork University Hospital (CUH), had been sent to Antwerp for incineration.

The actions that affected 18 families became public little more than a year ago in an RTÉ Investigates programme. A year on, the couple and the other grieving parents have remained without answers, even though they were first told a report would come last November.

“My son’s brain went into a bin as if it was a piece of rubbish,” said Ms Bermingham on the programme. “You put rubbish in a bin – why would you put my beautiful son’s brain into a bin?”


Ms Bermingham and Mr Callanan, along with another 17 parents whose babies’ organs were sent for incineration without their knowledge in late March and early April 2020, were told that the systems analysis review at CUH, ordered by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly after the programme aired, would be completed and available by November 2021.

A year on, Ms Bermingham and Mr Callanan and the other grieving parents are still waiting. They are frustrated that they have again been failed by CUH with the delay, only compounding their upset and distress at discovering what happened to Lee’s organs.

“We are really angry at this stage – I contacted the CEO of Cork University Hospital in September [2021] to say that the review team haven’t got back to us and the stress and the anxiety that this is causing us is huge and he emailed me back to say that it’s in the final stages of being finalised,” said Ms Bermingham.

“Since then, I’ve sent email after email and I keep getting back the same reply – an apology for the upset that the delays are causing. In the last one in October, they said the review team are waiting on replies from all the families before finalising it but they still had no specific date.

“But this is going on over a year now – I remember thinking last November when we didn’t get the report that they would never let it drag on over Christmas, but they did. I never in a million years thought I would be waiting for this report 14 months on from when it was first commissioned.”

Ms Bermingham said the wait was very hard for the family. “Lewis turned three in September and he’s getting big now but for us, it’s kind of bitter-sweet because we lost his twin brother. When he started preschool in September, you were thinking they should be going hand in hand.”

She said she wanted to have answers for her son when he gets to an age when he asks about his brother.

Katie Quilligan from Carrignavar, whose two-day old baby James died at Cork University Maternity Hospital on January 19th, 2020, said she was worried the report may not provide her with the answers she wants.

“We have been told we will have the report by Friday, but we are not happy with the fact that we are not getting the draft report like we were promised from day one because we have seen the guidelines from the Patient Advocacy Service and we should get a draft report first,” she said.

“Being honest, I don’t think I even want the report that they are offering us at this stage. I want to see the draft report that they’ve done and then I want to see the final report and see what has changed in it.

“That’s the whole point of producing a draft report because if there are things in it that we disagree with, then we have an opinion, but they are giving us a final report that might not even give us the answers that we need to actually grieve the children.”

The CUH said: “It has always been the desire of CUH management that all the families impacted by this unfortunate incident would receive a copy of the report at or as close as possible to the same time. Once that date/time has been agreed, the full report will be shared with all the families concerned.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times