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Government planning ‘opt-out’ system for organ donation

Leo Varadkar says family agreement and next-of-kin consent would still be needed

Leo Varadkar said any opt-out organ donation system will require family consent and agreement of the deceased person’s next of kin. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

The Department of Health has said it is working on legislation to introduce an opt-out system of organ donation.

Ireland currently uses an “opt-in” system which means that people have to express their consent before their organs can be donated.

Opt-out legislation was inlcuded in the previous programme for Government but was not enacted during its lifetime.

“Organ donation as the norm is something the Department is keen to progress, and it is important that people are encouraged to share their views on organ donation with their loved ones,” a Department spokeswoman said.

“Additional funding has been provided to the HSE’s Organ Donation and Transplant Office to facilitate the development of improved infrastructure to support organ donation and transplantation,” she said.

The Department said the extra investment has resulted in the appointment of additional staff dedicated to organ donation and transplantation across the country, including organ procurement coordinators and organ donation nurse managers in each of the hospital groups.

“Additional staff are working to foster a strong culture of organ donation, optimise conversion rates and ultimately increase the number of transplantations that are carried out each year,” she said.

Speaking at the launch of Donor Awareness week, acting Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said any opt-out system will require family consent and agreement of the deceased person’s next of kin.

He said the most important thing, however, was to increase the overall number of transplants.

As part of the new structure, an organ donor co-ordinator has been put in place in every hospital group.

He said that much more important than any legislation was that people had “difficult conversations” with their families about what they wished to happen to their organs in the case of a tragic accident, for example.

“I can’t imagine a situation where somebody’s organs would be removed with their family objecting, even if they hadn’t taken the time to opt out, so ultimately this is always going to be a discussion that must take place with the family of the deceased,” he said.

“There is no way organs would be removed from somebody against the wishes of their family just because somebody didn’t get around to opting out and I think people need to understand that .

“That’s why much more important than any other legislation is people being aware of this and carrying the donor card and having a conversation with their families about what they want to happen their organs when they die,” he said.

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