New funding for organ donation and transplant services

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Health Minister, Stephen Donnelly has announced increased funding of €1.6 million in 2024 for organ donation and transplant services. 

The funding was announced as the Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill  completed its passage in both Houses of the Oireachtas  and was sent to Uachtarán na hÉireann for signing.

The Minister said, “The passage of this Bill is a meaningful moment for healthcare in Ireland. This Bill enshrines respect – respect for the generosity of donors and their families, and respect for the dignity of the deceased.”

The Department of Health said the Bill represented a significant step forward in the regulation of human tissue use in Ireland. It provided a robust, transparent, and ethical legal framework for the donation of organs for transplantation, the carrying out of post-mortem examinations, the use of bodies and body parts for anatomical examination and education, and the public display of bodies and body parts.

To support and maximise the outputs from progressing this Programme for Government commitment, the Minister for Health confirmed the additional €1.6 million of new development funding for services.

This funding will support the implementation of the early phases of the 2024-2026 Organ Donation Transplant Ireland’s (ODTI) Strategic Plan, with the goal of increasing organ availability for transplantation, reducing the existing transplant waiting list of 601 people, funding the expansion of the National Potential Donor Audit (PDA), and promoting organ donation through the implementation of the Human Tissue Bill and a public awareness campaign.

The Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill was drafted to provide:

  • General conditions for the removal, donation and use of organs and tissue from deceased and living persons for transplantation.
  • To introduce regulations for both non-coronial and coronial post-mortem examinations in hospital and non-hospital settings.
  • General conditions and regulations for anatomical examination; and
  • General conditions and regulations for public display of bodies after death.

The Bill introduced a new statutory requirement for consent across all of these activities as well as safeguards to protect the integrity of the human body before and after death and to prevent any organ retention without consent in the future.

Organ donation and transplantation

The Human Tissue Act introduces a soft opt-out system of consent for organ donation. Under this system, consent for organ donation will be deemed unless the person has, while alive, registered his/her wish not to become an organ donor after death. This is a change from the current system where decisions on organ donation are the responsibility of the next-of-kin and assumes that an individual has a desire to donate their organs after their death unless they make a statement of objection to donation.

Although the wishes of the deceased should be central to any decision, families will continue to be consulted as part of a safe and respectful organ donation process.

The Act further provides a framework for the donation of organs and tissues and cells from living donors including the introduction of a legislative basis for non-directed altruistic living donation.

It is anticipated that these measures will help increase the donor pool in the State and will encourage organ donation to save lives in circumstances where this is possible.

Post-mortem practice and procedure

The Human Tissue Act introduces consent provisions for non-coronial post-mortems and sets out a clear framework for how consent should be obtained and the information that must be given to families when seeking such consent.

The Act also amends the Coroners Acts to introduce additional provisions for communication and information sharing with families in cases where a coronial post-mortem is required.

The Act further provides for regulation of the retention, storage, use, disposal and return of organs and tissue from deceased persons following post-mortems.

The legislation will lead to improved standards of practice across both the coronial and non-coronial system and will complement updated guidelines published by the HSE last year [HSE National Clinical Guidelines for Post Mortem Examination Services (2023)].

Anatomical examination

The Human Tissue Act repeals the Anatomy Act 1832 and puts in place arrangements in relation to the donation of bodies to anatomy schools and provisions for the setting of standards to be met in the practice of anatomy.

Public display of bodies

There had been no legislation governing the public display of bodies. Consequently, the State had no powers to investigate the provenance of bodies on public display and to intervene if required.

Under the Act, a license will be required for the public display of bodies after death. The provisions in the legislation outline the consent arrangements required for the donation of a body or body parts for public display and ensure the provenance of the specimens used.