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'You can’t take your organs with you': Harris to bring in opt-out system next year

“Donating your organs is the most selfless act that anybody can actually do.”

Health Minister Simon Harris
Health Minister Simon Harris
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

SIMON HARRIS HAS said he hopes an opt-out organ donation system will be in place in Ireland next year.

The Health Minister was speaking at the opening of Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland’s (ODTI) new headquarters on Temple Street in Dublin city.

Harris told reporters at the event: ”Donating your organs is the most selfless act that anybody can actually do. I’ve met some parents here today who, when their child passed away, donated their child’s organs which benefitted five other families. It really is the gift of life.

“We have a lot of work to do, and the area that I want to see progressed is the Human Tissue Bill. I’d like to move to an opt-out system, where people have an opportunity to have given presumed consent – useless you actually opt out, it’s presumed you would like your organs to be donated.

“I intend to bring a memo to government in the coming weeks seeking approval for the drafting of that Human Tissue Bill. I also expect to bring further consultation this summer with a view to passing the legislation later this year.”

In 2013, an Oireachtas Committee found that changing to a ‘soft opt-out’ system could “vastly increase“ Ireland’s rate of organ donation.

“It is important that ultimately the family always has the final say in relation to the next of kin and I think that’s right and proper. But [a soft opt-out system] also makes it easier for a family relative to make what can be a difficult decision at a vulnerable time if they know the wishes of their deceased relative…

It really is the gift of life, you can’t take your organs with you … you have the opportunity to give life to so many others.

Instead of an opt-out system, the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) has called for an organ donor registry to be set up to “increase the number of deceased organ donors”, in line with the HSE’s National Consent Policy.

In relation to this, Harris said: “I know the IKA have strong views in relation to this and, in fairness, they’re long held and consistently held.

“I personally believe in the opt-out system, I believe we’ve seen good beneficial impact from it in other countries, most recently in Wales. But I do think the idea of a registry is also well worth doing so I don’t think the two ideas are mutually exclusive.

“I would hope that as we move towards e-health and the likes, you could actually have very clear data through people’s e-health records. I think both of them can actually be married in that regard. I’m hopeful that [legislation] will be passed by the end of the year and implemented in 2018.”

23 transplants per month 

Harris also launched the ODTI’s 2016 annual report today.

Overall, 280 organ transplants were carried out in 2016. This marks the second highest yearly performance achieved, with an average rate of 23 transplants per month.

90510827 Simon Harris, Minister of Health, and Professor Jim Egan, Director of Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland Source: Tom Honan/RollingNews.ie

“The Living Kidney Donor Programme continues to go from strength to strength, and the excellent performance of the National Renal Transplant Service in Beaumont Hospital saw a remarkable increase in living donor transplants from 33 in 2015 to a record 50 last year,” Harris said.

The organ transplant figures for 2016 were:

  • 172 kidney transplants at National Renal Transplant service, Beaumont Hospital
  • 58 liver transplants at National Liver Transplant Service, St Vincent’s University Hospital
  • 35 lung transplants and 15 heart transplants at the National Heart and Lung Transplant Service at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital

Within the ODTI, the National Organ Procurement Service (NOPS) is managed by six donor coordinators.

NOPS provides a 24 hour on-call service, 365 days a year, in planning and arranging transplants when donor organs become available.

Speaking about the publication of the annual report, Professor Jim Egan, ODTI director, said: “I would like to thank the staff of the National Organ Procurement Service, the intensive care units and theatres, as well as the nurses and all staff in hospitals nationwide for their commitment.

“I especially want to thank the 77 families whose courage and generosity in donating organs saved the lives of 280 people last year.”

Organ donor cards can be obtained by phoning the Irish Kidney Association on 1890 543 639 (lo-call) or by texting the word DONOR to 50050 (free). More information can be read here. People can also download the IKA’s digital donor card here.

Read: ‘After the transplant, I looked in the mirror and my eyes weren’t yellow anymore, they were white’

Read: ‘Helen didn’t have a peaceful death, she wanted to live so much’

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Órla Ryan

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