The Government has approved the drafting of a composite bill that will, for the first time, put in place a statutory framework for organ donations and transplants.
Under the bill, expected to be published shortly, people will be regarded as organ donors unless they register to opt out of the system.
The Human Tissue (Transplantation, Post-Mortem, Anatomical Examination and Public Display) Bill would, however, still require discussions with family members before organs were removed.
The proposals also include changes in the rules governing the storage, handling, transportation, disposal, and return of organs or body parts.
The bill will also introduce clinical regulations for all post-mortem procedures in hospitals.
Health minister Stephen Donnelly said yesterday (29 November) that there would be a legislative framework around organ retention, post-mortems, and the coronial system.
"We know there are families who have been through unspeakable tragedy in terms of what happened to their babies’ organs," he said.
This legislation is important to ensure that this will "never happen again", the minister said.
The bill also amends the Coroner’s Acts 1962-2020 to introduce additional provisions for communication and information sharing with families in cases where a coronial post-mortem is required.
The Government said that the legislation would lead to improved standards of practice and would complement updated guidelines currently being drafted by the HSE, which are scheduled for publication by the end of the year.
The amendment to section 33 of the Coroners Act will:
- Ensure the family is informed as soon as practicable that material removed during the examination may be retained for the purposes of the death investigation, and of the location of the hospital or other facility,
- Ensure the family is made aware that further authorisation may be required from them regarding the disposition of material retained,
- Provide that any material removed from the body in a hospital will be preserved, stored and recorded in accordance with regulations.
More formal process
The amendment of section 57 of the Coroners Act will introduce a more formal process for the final interactions between a coroner, the family, and a nominated person in a hospital or other facility.
A coroner must ensure that family members are made aware, as soon as practicable, that any material retained following a post-mortem examination is no longer required.
This notification will advise the family member to contact the nominated person to arrange for the authorisation for the final disposition of the material.
Where no authorisation has been received or efforts to make contact have been unsuccessful, a coroner is authorised to direct the disposal of material.
Such material may include material considered of an historic nature, which may have been stored for a long period and whose retention serves no further purpose.
Public display of bodies
The Human Tissue Bill will repeal the Anatomy Act 1832 and puts in place arrangements in relation to the donation of bodies to anatomy schools, and provisions for standards to be met in the practice of anatomy.
There is currently no legislation governing the public display of bodies. Consequently, the State has no powers to investigate the provenance of bodies on public display and to intervene, if required.
Under the bill, a licence will be required for the public display of bodies after death. The provisions in the legislation outline the consent arrangements required for the donation of a body or body parts for public display, and ensure the provenance of the specimens used.