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Government told it must publish Human Tissues Bill before end of Dáil term

The Government is being urged to publish the Human Tissue Bill before the end of the Dáil term next month.

The bill was due to have been published at the end of December. The Department of Health says the legislation, which would include a legislative framework around human organs and tissue used in post-mortem examinations, is currently at an advanced stage and will be published “as soon as possible”.

The department cannot give a timeframe for the publication of the legislation.

Last week, Cork couple Fintan and Laura Kelleher, whose baby girl Hope’s organs were incinerated without their knowledge, said they want legislation changed to prevent other families going through the same trauma.

Hope was stillborn at Cork University Maternity Hospital in 2019 and was one of 18 babies whose organs were sent to Antwerp in Belgium from CUMH for incineration in 2020. The incineration was carried out without the consent or knowledge of the parents of the 18 babies. 

The families will hold a protest at CUMH on Saturday morning, over concerns about the delay in providing them with a copy of a draft report on the incineration of the organs. It had been due to published last October or November.

After the incineration of the organs was revealed on a Primetime documentary on RTÉ 1 last September, the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, said the Human Tissue Bill was a priority for the Government. 

He told the Dáil: “The proposed Human Tissue (transplantation, post-mortem, anatomical examination and public display) Bill will create a modern legislative framework for consent for activities involving human organs and tissue. 

"It will implement the key recommendation of the Madden report (2006) that no hospital post-mortem examination should be carried out and no tissue retained for any purpose whatsoever without the informed consent of the family or next of kin.” 

He added: “The proposed Bill will ensure that the principles of protection of the bodily integrity of the individual before and after death, and respect for the autonomy of the individual and the rights of the bereaved, are enshrined in legislation.” 

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard, who raised the Kellehers’ case in the Seanad last November, says that it is now almost six months on from the planned publication of the Human Tissues Bill but there is still no indication of when it will be published.

He said: “We have seen the trauma in Cork from the lack of legislation in this area. The Government needs to publish this bill immediately. We are literally weeks from the end of the Dáil term, which will be closing in July. If it is not published by then, it will be a disgrace.” 

Labour’s health spokesman, Duncan Smith, said he will be asking Mr Donnelly to commit to publishing the legislation before the summer recess.

He added: “The continued delays in the Department of Health for important legislation such as this, which has added layers of sensitivity, is intolerable. I am at a loss as to why there is such a lack of urgency on the Human Tissue Bill.”