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Considering the ultimate gift in organ donation week

The Irish Times View

Health: 460 people awaiting kidney transplants

Organ donor awareness week, which runs until Saturday, is a reminder of the societal benefits of carrying an organ donor card. There can be few greater acts of altruism than donating one’s organs after death; a person’s lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and corneas can offer life-saving and life-enhancing opportunities to those with a variety of end-stage diseases.

The Irish Kidney Association (IKA) has predicted the number of people needing dialysis in Ireland will rise from 2,000 to 3,000 in the next 10 years. There are 460 people currently on the kidney transplant waiting list. Beaumont Hospital carried out 153 kidney transplants last year, including 33 from living donors.

IKA chief executive Mark Murphy has called for a second national kidney transplant centre to be set up to meet “spiralling demand”. His proposal was not rejected by acting Minister for Health Leo Varadkar who acknowledged the validity of a separate argument in favour of centralising the current three centres of transplant surgery in one hospital.

However given the long-standing problem with the “clogging” of Beaumont Hospital’s beds, which has led to ongoing difficulties for both emergency and elective procedure patients, centralising transplant activity in one unit may be offering future hostages to fortune. A second multi-organ transplant centre would seem a more astute development for the next government to consider.

The other side of the organ transplant equation is the availability of suitable donor organs. It is time to seriously consider implementing a soft opt-out organ donor system; if people do not object to their organs being used after death, they should be used to save lives, with the proviso that next of kin continue to be consulted. The subject of a public consultation process in 2013, such a system has the potential to significantly increase the donor organ pool. An opt-out system is better for recipients, better for donors and better for relatives. Legislation to make this a reality must be a priority for the incoming administration.