Organisers of events with preserved human bodies will need special licence

Measures are contained in new Bill which will see long-awaited opt-out organ donation system introduced

Organisers of exhibitions featuring real preserved human bodies will have to obtain a special licence and answer questions about the provenance of the specimens, as part of plans due to go before Cabinet.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly will bring a memo to Cabinet outlining his plans to introduce a long-awaited system of opt-out organ donation. A separate part of this legislation will detail new measures around the public display of bodies.

There is currently no legislation governing the public display of bodies in Ireland. Consequently, the State has no powers to investigate the provenance of bodies on public display and to intervene if required.

Under the Bill, a licence will be required for the public display of bodies after death. The legislation will detail what consent arrangements will be needed for the donation of a body or body parts for public display and will also seek to ensure the provenance of the specimens used.


It follows controversy over a “Real Bodies” exhibition in Australia in 2018. Then, a group of objectors including doctors, lawyers and scientists called for the exhibition in Sydney to be shut down. They claimed that the exhibition may have included the bodies of executed Chinese prisoners.

The organisers strongly denied those allegations, however. There was further controversy when the show went to Birmingham in the UK in 2018. This led to calls by doctors for the laws around tissue importation into the UK to be tightened in the wake of what they described as ethical concerns.

A number of exhibitions featuring preserved bodies have taken place in Dublin since 2012.

The new legislation will also contain fresh measures around anatomical examination, putting in place arrangements in relation to the donation of bodies to anatomy schools.

Mr Donnelly is expected to tell the Cabinet that the overall aim of the new legislation is to make organ donation the norm when individuals pass away in circumstances where donation is possible.

Once passed by the Oireachtas, the legislation will for the first time in Ireland provide a statutory framework for operating donation and transplant services in Ireland.

The Bill introduces a soft opt-out system of consent for organ donation. Consent will be deemed unless a person has, while alive, registered his or her wish to not become an organ donor after death.

Under this system there is still discussion with designated family members before the removal of organs for transplant.

The legislation also contains measures around postmortem practices.

A framework will be established for the transfer of responsibility for material derived from postmortems from the coroner to the hospital to allow for its appropriate and timely return or disposal.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times