Meeting with Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan hammered home pressing need to increase donation
Following a meeting I had with Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan to discuss the issue of organ donation, I was struck by their positive and uplifting story. After that meeting, it was clear to me that we need to look at our policy and approach to organ donation. I am delighted that my colleagues on the Oireachtas Health Committee have agreed to my proposal to hold a series of consultations to examine the issues around our approach to organ donation.
Our current system of organ donation is an opt-in one, which requires an explicit decision to donate to be made, either by the person prior to their death or by family members after death. Even though we have a generous culture of organ donation in Ireland, we consistently rank low, at just 23rd in European league tables, behind all other countries that have a soft-opt out system.
Recently there have been suggestions that we should change to a soft opt-out system, with a presumption of consent to donate upon death unless specifically stated otherwise. It is important to state that even if this change was made, we must ensure that in all instances a person’s family always has the final say. This maintains the principle that donation is a gift and would help in changing public attitudes so that donation becomes the norm, not the exception.
We have a chronic shortage of deceased organs available for donation. In 2011, when an estimated 250–300 kidneys were required, only 164 deceased kidney donor transplants were carried out. This suggests that our current system is not working and that a review is required so that the many people who are in need of an organ transplant can be helped.
This issue is something that is being, or has been, debated throughout the world. It is time we start to look seriously at the changes that need to be made so that our rate of organ donation can be increased. Countries that have changed to opt-out systems have seen significant increases in organ donation rates. Over a three year period, after making the change to opt-out systems, Belgium saw its rate increase by more than 100%; in Singapore it increased by a staggering 700%. Any similar increase here would have a hugely positive impact on those who require a transplant and ultimately would help save lives.
The Programme for Government commits to the introduction of an opt-out system to help increase donation rates. I hope that the consultation process, through the Committee, will help in the development and progression of that policy.