Organ and body donation
Organ donation takes healthy tissues and organs from one person so that they can be transplanted into another person, replacing organs that are not healthy.
Organs which are suitable for transplant include the heart, kidneys, lungs, liver and pancreas.
Certain organs, such as a kidney, can be donated by a living donor who can live a healthy lifestyle without the organ. To become a living donor, you must give informed consent.
Most organs are only transplanted after the death of the donor.
You can become an organ donor by carrying a donor card or using the Organ Donor Ecard smartphone app, or having your wishes noted on your driving licence. You should tell 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.
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
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.
The Irish Donor Network
The Irish Donor Network is a group 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
- Hospital Transplant Co-ordinators
- The Eye and Bone Banks
The Irish Eye Bank no longer accepts 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 Ireland
- University College Cork
- National University of Ireland, 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.
Free text the word 'Donor' to 50050 or Lo-call 1890 543 639.