Organ donor assistance scheme ‘discriminatory’, says O’Reilly

SF health spokeswoman says ‘oversight’ has impact on donors not in formal employment

The Department of Health’s scheme to assist living organ donors with their expenses discriminates against donors who are not in formal employment, it has been claimed.

Sinn Féin health spokeswoman Louise O’Reilly said the numbers were small but a group of people was being discriminated against and “women are most likely disproportionately represented in that group”.

The Dublin Fingal TD raised the case of Nicola McKenna, who donated a kidney to one of her siblings, one of 51 living kidney donors last year, the highest number since transplants began in Ireland.

“She incurred significant expenses. People who work in the home do work even if it might not be in the formal economy. She was not able to do that work but it still had to be done and her children still had to be cared for.”


Ms O’Reilly said “she incurred additional expenses while recuperating after doing what was a marvellous thing” but was not covered by the departmental scheme which reimburses lost earnings for salaried, waged and self-employed donors for up to 12 weeks after donation.

“I genuinely believe that this is an oversight. Given that the numbers involved are small, no one in the Department of Health or any other department would deliberately seek to exclude these people.”

Everyone recognised how essential living donors were and it would not be unreasonable to extend the scheme, she said.

She said Ms McKenna “in no way sought any financial award for this. She gave a marvellous gift to her sibling freely.” Ms O’Reilly believed that “although the scheme is discriminatory that is not the department’s intention”.

She said: “We are discussing people who could, for example, be caring at home for an elderly relative, children or a family member with special needs. They will have to spend money to get that work done.”

Ms O'Reilly raised the issue in the Dáil this week with Minister of State for Health Catherine Byrne, who said she understood her concern and would bring the matter to the attention of Minister for Health Simon Harris.

Last year, a record 311 organ transplants were carried out, including 192 kidney transplants, of which 51 were from living donors – itself a record – said Ms Byrne.

The Minister had a family member, all of whose organs were donated after their death and “having to go to hospital and see someone on a machine, knowing they will never leave again, is very stressful. Thank God we have people who donate their loved ones’ organs.”

Ms Byrne said a key principle of organ donation was that it should be voluntary and unpaid. “However it is recognised that most living donors incur some financial losses when donating a kidney.”

The department’s scheme to reimburse donors for their expenses is done on the basis that it does not provide a financial incentive or reward to a potential donor.

Ms O’Reilly said for Ms McKenna “knowing that she would not be re-imbursed for the additional cost did not in any way deter her from donating a kidney”.

The Minister acknowledged the concern and said “perhaps it has been overlooked and we should re-examine it”.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times