Organ and body donation
Organ donation and transplantation save the lives of between 200 and 250 people in Ireland every year. By becoming an organ and/or a tissue donor, you could save the lives of up to 5 people who are in end-stage organ failure.
You can become an organ donor by just telling your family or next-of-kin that you wish to donate your organs after your death. Your family or next-of-kin can inform a doctor or another healthcare professional in a hospital if they are asked about your wishes regarding organ donation. Simple ways to indicate your wishes are to carry an organ donor card or to sign the organ donation option on the back of your driving licence.
You can donate certain organs while you are alive. Living organ donors can donate a kidney. To become a living donor, you must give informed consent. More organs may only be donated after death (that is, kidneys, heart, lungs, pancreas, heart valves, eyes, etc.).
Having a medical condition does not prevent you from becoming a donor (an individual decision will be made by a healthcare professional at the time of your death).
The medical team treating you if you are ill is separate from the transplant team. Organs are only removed when 2 doctors, working independently, have certified that the person is dead following a series of strict tests.
It is important to know that the removal of organs is carried out with the same care and respect as any other operation. Organ donation does not disfigure the body or change the way it looks nor does it cause any delay to funeral arrangements.
Organ donors and consent
If you want to donate your organs and make them available for transplantation after your death, the easiest way is by telling your family or next-of-kin that you wish to donate your organs after your death. Your family or next-of-kin can inform a doctor or another healthcare professional in a hospital if they are asked about your wishes regarding organ donation.
You can indicate your wishes by carrying an organ donor card or signing the organ donation option on the back of your driving licence. Organ donor cards are available from the Irish Donor Network (see below), through the Irish Kidney Association, and in doctors' surgeries and pharmacies.
Signing an organ donor card or a driving licence donation option indicates your willingness to have your organs used for transplant. It does not necessarily mean that they will be used. There are various medical criteria and other conditions that must be met. To ensure safe transplantation, the death must take place in a hospital. Your next-of-kin should know of your wish to be an organ donor, but they are not bound to abide by your wishes and their consent is always required.
In all cases, the medical team requests the next-of-kin to donate the organs of a deceased person. In practice, the consent of the next-of-kin is accepted as valid and a refusal by the next-of-kin is not contested.
Postmortems and organ donation
In situations where a death is reported to the Coroner, permission must be obtained from the Coroner before organ donation can take place, as well as the written consent of the next-of-kin. Where the Coroner grants permission for organ donation, any subsequent postmortem examination will be a limited one. Decisions about this matter are made by the Coroner in consultation with the Gardaí and medical professionals. In general, Coroners do facilitate requests for organ donation. Read more about the role of the Coroner and postmortems here.
Organ donation for transplantation is not a postmortem practice and it is conducted in an operating theatre. Consent for the retention of organs for research is a postmortem practice conducted in a mortuary.
Children and mentally incapacitated adults
Neither children nor mentally incapacitated adults may give consent to body or organ donation. In practice, parents do give consent to organ donation by their deceased children and this is accepted but there is no law dealing with the question.
The Irish Donor Network
The Irish Donor Network is a group of of individuals and patient associations directly concerned with organ transplantation, donor families and medical co-ordinators involved in organ and tissue transplantation. Those involved in the Network are:
- Donor families
- The Irish Kidney Association
- The Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association
- The Cystic Fibrosis Association
- The Irish Lung Fibrosis Association
- Alpha One (Anti Trypsin) Foundation
- Liver Transplant Unit in St.Vincent's Hospital
- Transplant Co-ordinators in Beaumont Hospital
- Irish Eye Bank
In 2004 The Irish Eye Bank stopped accepting ocular donations. (This is due to the theoretical risk that nvCJD could be transmitted in transplanted corneas.) All corneas and sclera are now imported from the United States of America.
The Irish Donor Network promotes, prints and distributes the Gift of Life Donor Card. By carrying the card and informing your family, you indicate your intention of donating organs and tissue for the purpose of transplantation in the event of your death.
Whole body donation for medical research
Medical research is a vital way in which the health profession can learn more about anatomy, research and treating illness.
If you want to donate your body for medical research, you should contact one of the 5 medical research schools located in the colleges listed below. Each medical school has its own procedures for entering into an agreement with you.
- University College Dublin
- Trinity College Dublin
- The Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin
- University College Cork
- University College Galway.
You should also make sure that your next-of-kin are aware of your wishes. You can do this by telling them and/or stating that you wish to donate your body for medical research in your will. The law is unclear on this but it would seem that your next-of-kin, or whoever is responsible for the cremation or interment of your body, are not necessarily obliged to go along with your wishes.
Where To Apply
You can contact any member of the Irish Donor Network for further information or for organ donor cards.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org, free text the word 'Donor' to 50050 or lo-call Donor House at 1890 543 639.
Irish Donor Network, care of
Irish Kidney Association
The Madden Report on Post Mortem Practice and Procedures and its recommendations was published in 2006 and sets out the facts relating to post mortem practice in Ireland (including organ retention) in relation to children under 12 years born alive between 1970 and 2000.
In 2009 the Department of Health began a public consultation on proposals for a Human Tissue Bill. The consultation document set out proposals to regulate the removal, retention, storage, use and disposal of human tissue from deceased persons, and consent for the use of donated tissue from living persons for the purposes of transplantation and research. As part of the preparation of the Human Tissue Bill, the Department also undertook a separate consultation process on the issue of the type of consent to be provided for organ donation. Information on the consultations and the submissions made is available on the Department's website.
EU Directive 2010/53/EU sets down common quality and safety standards for the procurement, transport and use of organs. It applies to the donation, testing, characterisation, procurement, preservation, transport and transplantation of organs. Ireland is required to transpose it into law by 27 August 2012. You can find more information on the Department of Health's website.