Man’s organs vanished after island death

The organs of a British man who died in Bermuda were removed without the consent or knowledge of his family – and have never been found, an inquest was told.

Norman Palmer.

Norman Palmer, 57, died in a hospital on the island after suffering respiratory problems.

When his body was repatriated a week later, it emerged many of his organs were missing.

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An inquest held in Wells in Somerset heard Mr Palmer, of Yeovil, who moved to Bermuda 30 years ago, was not an organ donor and his family were not informed before or after the “mutilation”.

The organs have never been traced and no explanation given, the hearing was told.

Mr Palmer died at Bermuda’s King Edward VII Memorial Hospital on April 12 2008 with a long-standing respiratory problem, caused by a combination of asthma and an old shotgun wound.

His wife Kathleen Palmer told East Somerset Coroner’s Court her husband had been denied his final wish of a cremation following the removal of his organs, which meant there was a potential need for further post-mortem examinations.

Mrs Palmer told the hearing: “I still cannot come to terms with the fact that Norman is lying in a grave in the UK.

“I cannot bring myself to think of what the pathologist did to Norman and how she brutally mutilated his body, it is beyond my comprehension. We didn’t bury a human being, we only buried a shell of the person who was my companion and soul mate.

“Someone needs to be held responsible for this despicable act. I can never come to terms with the fact that Norman need not have died and what happened to his body after his death.”

The inquest heard when Mr Palmer was 16 he suffered a shotgun wound when the weapon he was carrying accidentally discharged.

He received life-saving treatment but later developed fibrosis on the soft tissue, which led to the narrowing to his airway.

The long-term smoker, who suffered from asthma, began complaining of flu-like symptoms in 2007 and was treated by his GP.

On April 6 2008, he was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed as having an obstruction of his airway and was advised to see an on-call specialist but Mr Palmer refused as he wanted to see his own consultant.

Mrs Palmer said: “We were never advised as to the seriousness of Norman’s condition, nor the consequences his decision would have.”

Three days later he visited his GP, who insisted his breathing difficulties were asthma-related. On April 12, he began suffering breathing difficulties at home.

The court was told the ambulance was delayed in reaching the Palmers’ home which was just a two-minute drive from the hospital. “There was no sense of urgency,” Mrs Palmer said. “I was watching my husband slowly suffocating.”

He went into cardiac arrest and died at 5.25pm at the hospital.

A post-mortem examination in Bermuda found the cause of death was respiratory failure and Mr Palmer’s body was flown back to Britain on April 20 2008.

But a second post-mortem examination carried out by pathologist Ed Cooper at Yeovil District Hospital found Mr Palmer had been repatriated with most of his organs missing including a kidney, his spleen, brain, throat, thyroid, prostate, bladder, small and large intestine.

He recorded the cause of death as respiratory failure caused by asthma-related mucus.

At an inquest in Bermuda, a coroner recorded that Mr Palmer died of natural causes, as a result of self-neglect. Mr Palmer’s family contested the finding and appealed to the country’s Supreme Court, who upheld it.

But East Somerset Coroner Tony Williams questioned the original finding.

“Self-neglect should only be recorded when there is a gross failure to obtain basic medical attention,” he said. “Mr Palmer was taking medical advice and following the advice of his doctor.”

Mr Williams said: “I am satisfied that these body parts would have been removed in Bermuda because of the lack of the Human Tissue Act. I have to say it is not uncommon for bodies to be returned to this country with body parts missing.”

Speaking after the inquest, Mr Palmer’s family said the inquest “doesn’t finish the story”.

His sister Heather Carberry said: “None of us have any idea what happened to my brother’s organs. All of his organs apart from one kidney are missing. They mutilated my brother. It is like a horror story.”