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Organ Donor Awareness Week launched at event in Dublin

By Reporter - 16th Apr 2024

Organ Donor Awareness Week 2024 (20-27 April) has been officially launched by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly at an event in Dublin today.

The initiative is organised by the Irish Kidney Association (IKA) in association with the HSE’s Organ Donation Transplant Ireland (ODTI).

The IKA is asking the public to use Organ Donor Awareness Week as a prompt to have a family discussion about organ donation.

The Association stated that even when legal provisions for an ‘opt-out’ register are commenced, consent for organ retrieval will continue to be sought from the families of all potential organ donors (ie, families of individuals who did not register to ‘opt out’).

“By sharing your wishes when you are in good health you are helping your family to act on your behalf in the event of you being a potential organ donor,” according to the IKA.

Only 1 per cent of deaths occur in the circumstances of potential organ donation, therefore “we cannot afford to miss any opportunities because a person’s wishes are unknown”.

The Human Tissue Act was signed into law by President Michael D Higgins on 28 February. The IKA stated it is a significant milestone in the over 60 years of organ donation and transplantation in Ireland. With the planned introduction of altruistic donation and an opt-out register, there is an opportunity to engage the national population in an important conversation about organ donation.

Ms Carol Moore, IKA CEO, stated: “We look forward to provisions within the Human Tissue Act being commenced. We know that the Department of Health and HSE are working hard on this and hopefully will announce a future date for the commencement of the Act shortly.

“When the Act is implemented, people who do not wish to donate their organs can opt-out, and in these cases, their families will not be approached in the event of their untimely death. All those who do not opt-out will be considered potential organ donors, but their families will still have the final decision. The Act will also allow, for the first time, for altruistic living donation in Ireland, where the donor does not know the recipient.”

Dr Catherine Motherway, Clinical Lead, HSE ODTI, said organ donation is a gift of enormous magnitude that transforms the lives of transplant recipients and their families. She said that for the families of deceased donors “we know that the decision to donate organs of their loved one can bring hope and some solace in the midst of grief”.

At any one time in Ireland, there are approximately 600 people active on waiting lists for organ transplants including heart, lung, liver, kidney, and pancreas.

Some 282 organ transplant operations were carried out in Ireland in 2023 (32 more transplants than in 2022). This activity could not have taken place but for the generosity of the families of 95 deceased donors and 30 living kidney donors.

In 2023, 54 liver and six pancreas transplants took place at St Vincent’s University Hospital, while seven heart and 24 lung transplants were carried out at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

Last year saw an increase in the number of kidney transplants at Beaumont Hospital, where 191 such transplants took place. Some 161 of these kidney transplants were from deceased donors which was an increase of 31 from the previous year. There were also 30 living kidney donor transplants, three less than in 2022.

On 31 December 2023, there were 2,502 people in Ireland with end-stage kidney failure undergoing dialysis treatment, but only around one-fifth (approximately 500 people) of these are on the kidney transplant waiting list.

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