Organ Donation: Private Member Motion

-   Alan Farrell TD

I thank Deputy Tom Fleming for introducing the motion. As with previous speakers, I welcome any measure that will result in an increase in rates of organ donation. The reference to “presumed consent” in the programme for Government opened up a conversation on this issue and it is appropriate that the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health and Children, Deputy Jerry Buttimer, arranged for a discussion of organ donation to take place in the past two weeks.

We stand to gain a great deal from the reform of the organ donation system. Figures from 2011 suggest that, notwithstanding the low level of organ donations, 64% of Irish people would be willing to donate an organ. Ireland is one of a small number of countries in Europe that continue to operate an opt-in organ donation system, the others being Germany, Denmark and the United Kingdom. The introduction of presumed consent is not straightforward, however, and I would be interested to ascertain the Minister’s view on whether the unenumerated right to bodily integrity, which has been found by the courts to be present in Article 40.3.1 of the Constitution, will have an impact on possible legislation. The courts have interpreted the article as inferring the right to “bodily integrity”, which is the inviolability of the physical body, personal autonomy and self-determination of the physical body. I am interested in hearing the Minister’s view on the possibility that any legislation for presumed organ donation would be unconstitutional on that basis.

In practice, the Department of Health would have to provide a robust database and high profile awareness campaign to advise people of their opt-out rights and procedures for availing of them. If we are to invest valuable resources into such a system, it would be imperative to first hold a full consultation process with expert groups before making any legislative changes. I understand such a process is under way. In the United Kingdom, an expert group commissioned to report on the impact of presumed consent recommended retention of the opt-in procedure and the establishment of structures aimed at achieving a meaningful increase in organ donation rates.

I was pleased to hear a principal officer in the Department of Health recognise during last week’s committee hearings that it is not legislation but the infrastructure and systems in place and the way in which potential donors and their families are encouraged to donate that make a difference in increasing the number of donations. Family participation in the discussion on organ donation is essential. While I recognise the considerable work that has been done by a number of organisations and individuals, including Joe Brolly, in encouraging people to carry a donor card, it is high time the State, through the Department of Health, assisted in this process.

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