Stunt or coup, anything that highlights donation is a plus

Kidney transplant recipient Regina Hennelly says amending the law is vital for those awaiting new organs.

Some have labelled it a political stunt, but for the hundreds waiting, and the 3,000 or so of us who are living because we received organ transplants, the recall of the Seanad is something of a coup.

For the first time, Ireland may at last have a piece of legislation on organ donation and transplants that means something.

The number of surgeries could rise by up to 50% if we undo what Health Minister James Reilly did this time last year and actually get it right.

Ask the person attached to a dialysis machine or breathing via a nebuliser what that means, and they will tell you it is priceless. Hope is the only thing that sustains you when you are sick and waiting for a new organ.

Ireland, along with every other EU member state, was called upon in 2010 to implement an EU Directive on organ donation and transplantation.

The primary purpose of that directive was to ensure each member state established a single body responsible for co-ordinating the drive to increase transplantation in the country.

When Dr Reilly finally came to consider this directive, he decided not to place this responsibility in the hands of one, newly established body with real power. Instead, he chose to share the job between the HSE and the Irish Medicines Board.

This left Ireland as the only EU member state without a single transplant body.

The HSE set up a National Organ Donation and Transplantation Office, but this has yet to be equipped with a phone, an internet connection, an actual office, a budget, or a full-time member of staff.

To put in context the difference a transplant body makes in practical terms, we need only look to Britain. In the five years since it established its body, organ donation has risen by 50%.

What we now call the ‘Joe Brolly issue’ has come to dominate the conversation, his high profile guaranteeing him column inches.

I am grateful for any coverage on organ donation; anything that gets people thinking about the gift of life is welcome.

But whether a dying person has opted in or out of organ donation is rarely even considered in this country. Joe Brolly’s issue of consent creates an incorrect illusion in the public mind that each and every time a person is close to death in a clinical environment, there is a conversation with the family about donation.

Unfortunately, that conversation rarely happens. We have just five transplant co-ordinators in Ireland, all in Beaumont Hospital. By comparison, the North has 27 co-ordinators for a much smaller population.

When we have a National Transplant Authority, when we have transplant co-ordinators in hospitals across the country — maybe then we can start looking at the issue of consent.

Senator Mark Daly has been criticised for having the Seanad recalled to debate organ donation legislation, but the public should be made aware there is a bigger picture to consider here.

Dr Reilly’s signature on legislation that nobody else saw and that was never considered or debated by either House was not a one-off by any means.

Ministers do this all the time. By virtue of the 1972 European Communities Act, they have the power to sign Irish versions of EU laws without bringing them to the attention of colleagues or the citizens they serve.

The actual ratio of EU law to Irish law passed is three to one.

There are questions to be asked. It may inconvenience Senators and Dr Reilly to return from their vacation. But as an exercise in democracy, it is a vital platform to start probing how law-making in this country is actually done.

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