Organ donor week: it could be you

A new opt-out system would significantly increase the donor organ pool

 

Some 280 organ transplants were carried out in the Republic during 2016, representing the second highest yearly transplant rate on record. Notwithstanding the generosity of the 77 families who donated a loved one’s organs last year, too many people continue to die while waiting for a kidney, heart, lung, liver or pancreas transplant.

Minister for Health Simon Harris said proposals for the creation of an opt-out system of consent for organ donations will be brought to Cabinet soon

Although the living donors programme is growing, organ donation after death remains restricted by the current opt -in system of consent. An alternative soft opt-out organ donor system, whereby people who do not object to their organs being harvested after death would have them used for transplantation, (with the proviso that next of kin continue to be consulted) is needed.

Such a system has the potential to significantly increase the donor organ pool. Launching Organ Donor Awareness Week – which runs until next Saturday – Minister for Health Simon Harris said proposals for the creation of an opt-out system of consent for organ donations will be brought to Cabinet soon as part of an over-arching policy on human tissue. However public consultation would be required and the Minister indicated this would be launched before the end of the summer.

He also suggested the donor population could be expanded by extending criteria for donations, extending the age of potential donors and using medical technology to harvest organs not previously considered suitable. And it is important that doctors and transplant coordinators ensure all donor opportunities are followed up.

Saoirse Perry from Cabra who received a liver transplant last year with Minister for Health Leo Varadkar at the launch by Organ Donor Awareness in the Mansion House in Dublin on Monday. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
Saoirse Perry from Cabra, who received a liver transplant in recent years, with then minister for health Leo Varadkar at a launch by Organ Donor Awareness in Dublin in 2015. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

While a public consultation on legislative change is both necessary and appropriate, the debate must be underpinned by an understanding that under an opt-out system, individuals have exactly the same choice as in an opt-in system – to donate or not to donate. An opt-out system continues to give protection to those who do not wish to donate and makes it more likely that those who are willing to donate will be able to do so.

A soft opt-out organ donation system will further encourage altruism and will be better for recipients, donors and relatives.

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