Pamela Ryan discusses organ donation in Ireland, and whether the opt-out system should be changed.

 

Organ Donation in Ireland 

Stephen Barnaville suffered from cystic fibrosis and died at the age of 21. He died from the lack of a lung transplant. Mr Barnaville’s death affected another young man, James Tynan. Mr Tynan confided in his girlfriend that he wanted to be an organ donor. He died tragically a week later in Liberty Square, Thurles, Co. Tipperary, donating his last gift in the process.

Organ donation is a gift. According to citizensinformation.ie every person who holds an organ donor card can save up to five lives of those in end stage organ failure.The European Transplant Statistics revealed that 174 life-saving transplants were carried out here in Ireland in 2010. However, 633 people were on the waiting list at the time. There are so many more lives that could be saved if we all held organ donor cards. Hollie Adams, a first year student of Languages, Literature and Film, said: “I think it's admirable for someone to give up one of their organs when they have no need for them to save someone else’s life.”

In a small survey carried out among students of the University of Limerick I found that each student asked was in favour of organ donation. However, the majority of those asked did not currently hold an organ donor card. Unanimously, they just had not gotten around to it. I believe the opt-out system would work much better, just as in other EU countries, meaning that organ donation in the event of death is assumed unless previously specified by the donor.

There are concerns about organ donation including the treatment of the donor. The donor is cared for and respected as in any operation and is in no way disfigured, according to Beaumont Hospital, as they regulate all transplants in Ireland. Many people also have concerns about anonymity and their families being contacted after, only to be upset by the reminder. An organisation devoted to the awareness of organ donation called Strange Boat says that there are “strict ethical guidelines” in place to protect the identities of both donors and recipients.

According to current Irish law your next of kin should be informed of your decision but the final decision is completely theirs. They are not bound to abide by the card-holder’s wishes and their refusal will not be contested by a medical team. This makes the holding of donor cards completely pointless and is frankly disrespectful to the dead. Such legislation should be reviewed.Amy Diviney, a first year Applied Languages student, finds the idea that her family could over-rule her decision once she has passed to be completely pointless and believes the opt-out system would alleviate pressure from families who have recently lost loved ones as well as making more organs available for transplant. “How many organs go to waste that could be saved if the opt-out system was in place instead?” she said.

Last week, I donated blood to the Irish Blood Transfusion Service. Everyone there gave me great praise for donating, yet it was only one hour of my time and one pint of my blood, which I could live without. I found out that the IBTS needs 3,000 donations of blood a week to maintain medical services. One thousand people here in Ireland receive blood transfusions every week here in Ireland, each of which could require up to 30 pints of blood. By my calculations that is 156,000 pints of blood a year. Blood has a very short shelf life and needs to be replenished often.

Only three percent of the population currently donates blood in a country filled with more than four million people. Of those eligible to donate, only five percent actually do. Making these figures even smaller is the IBTS’ ban on homosexual and bisexual men giving blood. The IBTS claim this ban is not based on sexual orientation but “on specific sexual behaviour, such as anal and oral sex”. In 2012, to still be as blind-sighted as to think HIV is mainly contained within the community of gay men is ridiculous and discriminatory. It also excludes a huge group of people who could be donating life-saving blood.

Ms Diviney explained that one of the reasons she donates blood is a case of give and take, in the event she may need a transfusion herself someday. “Why should I get if I don’t give?” she said. The only thing she claims it takes from her is a bit of time and mild discomfort in her arm the next day. She also holds an organ donor card because “they can go on to benefit somebody else.”

I have been an organ donor card holder since the day I turned 18 and will become a regular blood donor. I cannot see this country changing to the opt-out system soon but I can hope that I have encouraged more people to become organ donors.