Tuesday, March 25th 2014
- Launch of Organ Donation Awareness Week in Cork
- Changing to an opt-out system could vastly increase the level of organ donation
Under our current system of opt-in organ donation, where an explicit decision to donate must be made, we have a chronic shortage of organs available for donation. In 2011, when up to 300 kidneys were required, only 164 deceased kidney donor transplants were carried out. Even though we have a generous culture of organ donation in Ireland, we rank at just 23rd in European league tables, behind all other countries that have a soft-opt out system. Our current system is not working and I believe a change is needed if we want to help more people who are in need of an organ transplant.
The opt-in system is used by only a small minority of EU countries, and those which have changed to an opt-out system have seen significant increases in their rates of organ donation. Over a three year period after making the change to an opt-out system, Belgium saw its rate of organ donation increase by 100%, while over the same period, Singapore saw an increase of 700%.
Through my chairmanship of the Health Committee, I have had the opportunity to discuss this issue in detail with people who are directly affected by organ donation. As well as this, the Committee has held two hearings on organ donation, when we heard from a wide range of stakeholders, including organ donors and recipients, medical professionals, support organisations and the Department of Health.
The Government has begun a consultative process regarding the move to a process of opt-out consent. Changing to a soft opt-out system has the potential to change public attitudes toward organ donation, and more importantly to vastly increase our rate of organ donation. 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 it would help in changing public attitudes so that donation becomes the norm, not the exception.
However, any transition to a soft opt-out system must be supported by increased investment in essential infrastructure, transplant surgeons and trained support staff. Each kidney transplant has the potential to save €680,000 over a 15 year period, so a short term investment in our organ donation infrastructure has the potential to deliver real long term savings for our health system, not to mention the long term benefits to the lives of organ recipients.
I was pleased, therefore, that as part of Budget 2014 the Minister for Health prioritised the development of a robust organ donation and transplantation infrastructure, with the allocation of an extra €2.92 million for organ donation and transplantation services in 2014. These additional resources will be a great help in increasing the levels of organ donation and transplantation and it will be of benefit to patients and their families.
Changing our system of consent will only be of limited benefit unless the necessary infrastructure to support the intended change is put in place. At the end of the year we must see real progress in delivering an improved environment for organ donation and transplantation in Ireland. Over the last twelve months we have made a lot of progress in moving to change our system of consent and also in delivering a robust organ donation infrastructure. We need to continue to make this progress, ensure that the momentum is harnessed and that real improvements are delivered.