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Govt doing "bare minimum" to fix organ donation rates, says CEO

The head of the Irish Kidney Assocation says James Reilly “hasn’t been good enough” on organ donation.

Image: Doctors performing surgery via Shutterstock

THE HEAD OF the Irish Kidney Association has said the government is doing “the bare minimum” to improve organ donor rates in the country.

CEO Mark Murphy said the approach of Health Minister James Reilly “hasn’t been good enough” and criticised the government’s approach to organ donation, saying that “Ireland was the last country to bring in legislation [regarding organ donation] and was forced to do it.”

He is also sceptical of the government’s plans to legislate for opt-out organ donation, describing it as “the last thing on the agenda that needs to be done”, before adding that “it doesn’t need to be done at all in my view. I see the consent issue as a distraction”.

While Minister Reilly was unavailable for comment, a spokesman from the Department of Health said that changing the system of consent is “just one aspect in a package of measures that will be required to increase organ donation rates”.

“In this regard, the Department… is considering what practices and organisational changes, along with the change to the consent system, could further improve donation rates in this country,” the spokesperson said.

Opt-out organ donation is where consent for donations after death is presumed, unless someone explicitly states that they do not wish to be a donor. Currently, where a potential donor is identified, their family is asked for consent for donation. The system being proposed is a ‘soft’ opt-out system, whereby organs would not be removed against the wishes of the next of kin.

The Department of Heath asked for public consultation on the issue in July. Individuals and groups were asked to submit their views on opt-out by 23 September.

Murphy claims that opt-out is ineffective, and has had little impact on donor rates in counties where it has been brought in, saying that “it is not used in practise” and that opt-out could actually lead to problems, citing the negative reaction to presumed consent laws introduced in Brazil where the law was repealed following a public backlash against organ donation.

However, it should be noted that this was a ‘hard’ opt-out system, which did not require family consent.

“It’s the practice that changes things,” said Murphy.

Changing consent by law doesn’t change anything. In Europe they are all seeking the consent of the next of kin, presuming it is impossible. You cannot presume something of a bereaved family.

Regarding what could be done instead of opt-out to increase donor rates, Murphy identified donor coordinators, those responsible for seeking consent from the families, as being crucial, as well as the establishment of an organ donor registry of those who have given consent.

It’s all about the way you ask. It is much stronger if a donor coordinator can go to a registry, and see that they said yes, and then go to the family and say that we’re looking for you to salute their wish to donate organs after their death.

The spokesman from the Department of Health stated that:

We will legislate to change the organ donation to an opt-out system for organ transplantation, rather than an opt in system so as to improve the availability of organs for patients in desperate need. The overall objective is to increase organ availability and to enhance the efficiency and accessibility of transplantation systems.

They also added that the Department plans to host a focused workshop on the findings of the consultation, which will “inform the next steps in the legislative process”.

Read: More than 650 people waiting on organ transplants >

Transplant patient: My sister gave me a kidney – and my life back >

Read: “Taidhg, my beloved, was an organ donor”: Mother of musician killed in car crash in heartfelt appeal >

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