A GROUP THAT supports bereaved parents has condemned the lack of “dignity and respect” shown to children who were buried in coffins with unrelated adults.
The practice, known as “tandem burial”, was discussed in a 29 August letter – seen today by TheJournal.ie - from the HSE’s Tony O’Brien to Ambrose McLoughlin, then Secretary General of the Department of Health.
It appears from reports we have that on occasion and in exceptional circumstances, there was a practice where a neonate who died in hospital and where the other options for burial of this neonate (e.g. burial in a hospital or religious plot) were not selected, that the remains of the neonate would be placed in a coffin of another deceased person.
Ger O’Brien, from First Light – formerly known as the Irish Sudden Infant Death Association – told TheJournal.ie that the practice was another sign that “as a society, we haven’t respected the dignity of every child.”
The life of that child must be validated as being as important as any child.
O’Brien said that this was not done, since “their final resting place is not even identifiable.”
Marie Creegan, social worker at Féileacáin – the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Association of Ireland – told TheJournal.ie her group had received up to 15 calls from worried parents since this morning.
This just brings to the fore once again that infants just don’t seem to count – we don’t value babies.
The letter – which emerged following a Freedom of Information request by RTÉ – says tandem burials took place “in a limited number of hospitals,” as confirmed by current and retired staff, in particular mortuary staff.
Ideally the awareness and understanding of both families involved would have been sought, though this is not guaranteed.
In a statement sent to TheJournal.ie this evening, the HSE emphasised that tandem burial was a “historical practice” which ended in the early 1980s, and “does not occur in HSE hospitals today.”
The scale of the practice is difficult to determine due to the changed landscape of all healthcare facilities, including maternity hospitals, from that time to today.
Furthermore, the record-keeping for such practices was not sufficiently comprehensive in order to allow a full picture in relation to the practice to be established.
Ger O’Brien warns that parents and families must not now be “retraumatised,” and called for the HSE and Department of Health not to systematically inform all parents.
For some people, it would just be too traumatic, some may actually prefer not to know.
And notifying everyone would take away their choice, which was done in the first place when the children were given the tandem burials.
Instead, she is calling for a clear time frame to be made public, so parents who think their children may have been involved can choose to come forward, if they wish.
“When they do come forward, the HSE should then facilitate them completely,” she added.
Sinn Féin TD Caoimhghín Ó’Caoláin has this evening called on the HSE to “establish the full extent of this practice,” calling it inappropriate and offensive to the families involved.
This is yet another distressful revelation that will cause considerable upset, for mothers who have lost children in birth or who had still births in the 1980s.