Organ and body donation
What is organ donation?
Organ donation is when you give healthy organs and tissue from your body for transplantation into another person's body, to replace their organs that are not healthy.
You may be able to donate your heart, kidneys, lungs, liver and pancreas for transplant.
Some organs such as a kidney, can be donated when you are alive if you can live a healthy lifestyle without the organ. To become a living donor, you must give informed consent.
Most organs are only transplanted after you die.
Changes to organ donation in Ireland
The Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill 2022 will change how you become an organ donor in Ireland.
When this Bill comes into effect, it will create an 'opt-out' system for organ donation after you die. It means that unless you register to say you do not want to be an organ donor, it will be assumed you have consented to be an organ donor when you die. This is different from the current system where the next-of-kin decides.
This page will be updated with further details when more information is available.
How to become an organ donor?
You can become an organ donor when you give your consent by:
- Carrying a donor card
- Noting your consent on your driving license or
- Setting up the organ donor app on your phone
You can get an organ donor card from:
- The Irish Kidney Association website
- Doctors' surgeries and pharmacies
- The Irish Donor Network (see below)
You should tell your family or next-of-kin that you consent to donating your organs after your death.
Your family or next-of-kin can then tell the doctor or another healthcare professional in a hospital if they are asked about your organ donation.
Consent and your next-of-kin
If you gave your consent to donate your organs on an organ donor card, the app or your driving licence, this will tell the hospital that you are willing to have your organs used for transplant after you die.
You should tell your next-of-kin that you want to be an organ donor but they do not have to abide by your wishes, as their consent is always required.
The medical team at the hospital needs your next-of-kin to consent to donating your organs after you die. If your next-of-kin refuses to donate your organs the procedure will not go ahead.
How does organ donation work?
If you have decided to donate your organs, they will only be removed when 2 doctors, working independently, have certified that you are dead following many strict tests.
Donating your organs does not change how your body looks or delay your funeral arrangements.
Sometimes your organs will not be used even if you are an organ donor. There is medical criteria and other conditions that must be met. For example your death must take place in a hospital for a safe transplantation to go ahead. Your body will be maintained on a life support machine (ventilator).
If you have a medical condition this does not necessarily prevent you from becoming a donor. The final decision will be made by a healthcare professional at the time of your death.
Post-mortems and organ donation
If your death is reported to the Coroner, they must give their permission before organ donation can take place, as well as the written consent of your next-of-kin. Read more about the role of the Coroner and post-mortems.
If you donated your organs for transplantation this will happen in an operating theatre, as this is not a post-mortem practice.
If you donated your organs for research this will happen in a mortuary as it is a post-mortem procedure.
When commenced, the Human Tissue Bill 2022 will make changes to current post-mortem practice and procedure. It will require additional communication and information sharing with families when a post-mortem by a coroner is needed.
It will also introduce a consent framework for how consent should be obtained from families for post-mortems that are not carried out by the coroner.
Donate my whole body to medical research
You can donate your whole body for medical research to help health workers to learn more about anatomy, research and treating illness.
If you want to donate your body for medical research, you should contact one of the 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 know that you want to donate your whole body to medical research 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.
When the Human Tissue Bill 2022 is implemented, it will set standards and arrangements for donating your body to an anatomy school.
Who do I contact about organ donation
Read more information, watch videos and find leaflets in different languages about organ donation on the HSE website
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. You can contact any member of the Irish Donor Network for further information or for organ donor cards. 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
- Children’s Liver Disease Ireland
- Heart Children Ireland
- The Eye and Bone Banks