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Harris to bring in opt-out organ donation system, but law means families will have the final say

The Bill also provides for non-directed altruistic kidney donation.

Eammon Kavangh from Clonsilla, who has undergone two liver transplants with Ray D’Arcy, the national ambassador Organ Donor Awareness 2019.
Eammon Kavangh from Clonsilla, who has undergone two liver transplants with Ray D’Arcy, the national ambassador Organ Donor Awareness 2019.
Image: CMC

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris today launched his Bill for an opt-out organ donation system for Ireland.

Cabinet approved the proposals by the minister to publish the general scheme of the Human Tissues Bill yesterday. 

When asked about the timeline today, he said he would like to see the system operational “as quickly as possible”.

The Bill has to go to the Oireachtas Health Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny, with the minister admitting today that realistically, it could take a couple of years before the new system will be in place. 

In addition to the opt-out system, the legislation will also allow for people to donate their kidney to a patient, even if they are not next of kin, but are a match to someone who needs it in Ireland. 

While the Human Tissue Bill deals with organ donation, it will also implement the key recommendation of the Madden Report on post-mortem practices and procedures.

It recommended that no hospital post-mortem examination should be carried out, and no tissue retained, for any purpose whatsoever without authorisation.

Organ donation

The minister told reporters today that it is my aim that organ donation is made the norm in Ireland when people pass away, in circumstances in which donation is a possibility.

The legislation being brought forward has a “soft opt-out” clause that will ensure relatives have the final say.

There will also be an opt-out register, where people can register if the do not want their organs donated.

Speaking to reporters today, Harris paid tribute to the campaigners who have fought for reform of the organ donation scheme, mentioning people such as activist Orla Tinsley, GAA star Joe Brolly, and also former Senator and founder of SuperQuinn, Fergal Quinn, who introduced a private members Bill on the issue when he was in the Seanad in 2008. 

Harris said the changes will “transform and overhaul the system”, adding that he hopes it sparks a “national conversation”.

“For almost 200 years the only primary legislation governing the use of human tissue was the Anatomy Act of 1832. The Bill will repeal that Act and create a modern legislative framework of consent,” said the minister, adding:

I strongly believe that this opt-out system could transform organ donation in Ireland. In order for it to be most effective, it will be supported by a series of other measures. It is so important we do everything we can to make organ donation the norm in Ireland when people pass away in circumstances where donation is a possibility.

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