There are two systems that can be used to ascertain an individual's wishes on organ donation: the opt-in system and the opt-out system. The former system, which operates in this country, requires that the specific consent to donation of each person, or their relatives, be obtained before organs or tissues are removed. The opt-out system presumes that all citizens consent to donation unless they have specifically expressed a wish to the contrary.
The practice in this country is that where a person has indicated his or her willingness to donate organs by way of carrying an organ donor card, or a driving licence marked accordingly, the consent of the next-of-kin is always sought. Even where opt-out systems are in operation, the relatives of the deceased are approached as part of the donor screening process to seek a medical history of any high risk behaviour. Thus, the relatives will always be aware that a donation is being considered and can register an objection to the donation.
I understand that the European Commission is considering the question of legislation in respect of organ transplantation, including the issue of consent, and proposes to conduct a thorough scientific evaluation of the situation. It will present a report to the Council of the European Union on its analysis as soon as possible.
In the meantime I am proposing to establish, in the near future, an expert group to examine organ donation, procurement and utilisation policy in Ireland as part of the national health strategy's commitment to develop organ transplantation services with a view to increasing donation and utilisation rates. I would be happy to have the issue raised by the Deputy considered by the group in the course of its work.