President receives representatives of the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association

Fri 26th Feb, 2016 | 14:30
location: Áras an Uachtaráin

Speech at a Reception for the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association

Áras an Uachtaráin, 26th February, 2016

A Dhaoine Uaisle,

A Chairde Gael,

Tá fíorchaoin fáilte romhaibh ar fad chuig Áras an Uachtaráin inniu. Is mian liom mo bhuíochas a ghabháil le bhur gCathaoirleach, Paddy O'Mahony, as scríobh chugam. Mar Phatrún ar Chumann na hÉireann um Thrasphlandú Croí agus Scamhóige tá áthas orm an deis seo a bheith agam an dul cun cinn íontach atá déanta i máinliacht trasphlandaithe sa tír seo a cheiliúradh, agus an tacaíocht a thugann bhur gCumann d'fhaighteoirí trasphlandaithe agus lena muintir a mholadh.

I am delighted that so many of you could join us this afternoon to celebrate the success of heart and lung transplantation in Ireland, and acknowledge the great work carried out by your Association. I am aware that many of you are transplant recipients, people who demonstrate the great difference an organ transplant can make to one’s life and to the lives of their family and friends. Through your involvement with the Irish Heart and Lung Transplant Association, you also demonstrate a willingness to share your experience for the benefit of others – a willingness to give back and propagate the gift of life you have received from generous donors.

It is my great pleasure to be the Patron of an Association that does so much to raise awareness of the value of organ donation and transplantation. May I thank you, too, for the support you provide to transplant recipients and their families. You can also be proud of the fact that one of your own members – Brendan Gilligan – is currently the President of the European Heart and Lung Transplant Federation. By working closely with your counterparts across Europe, you are strengthening the status and expertise of your Association to the benefit of all of your members, and that of Irish citizens at large.

We have recently reached some important milestones in the history of heart and lung transplantation in Ireland. Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the first heart transplant, carried out in 1985 by a path-breaker in Irish medicine, the late Maurice Neligan. 2015 also saw the 10th anniversary of the first lung transplant, another important step in the history of Irish cardiothoracic surgery.

The Heart and Lung Transplant Programme at the Mater Misericordiae University has been going from strength to strength since its inception.  In 2015, 36 lung transplants, the highest number ever, were carried out in Ireland, as well as the first heart and lung transplant. The repatriation of the lung transplant programme from the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, at the start of 2014, was another seminal event. Indeed it is of great benefit to all patients that the Irish lung transplant programme is now in a position to deal with all Irish adults waiting for lung transplants.

May I take this opportunity to express my sincere gratitude to the expert surgeons and the entire Transplant Team in the Mater Hospital, who have made and continue to make the Heart and Lung Transplant Programme so successful.

Of course, the success of the whole programme relies upon the willingness of a sufficient number of suitable donors to gift their organs. No transplant would be possible without the generosity of families who give their consent to donate their loved ones’ organs. This is where the awareness raising work carried out by your Association is so essential.

Ireland has a strong record on organ donation. However we would all like to see those donation rates continue to rise so that all of our citizens who are in need of transplantation can benefit from this life-saving technology. As you know very well, while transplantation is now a commonplace technique in Ireland, too many people continue to die each year waiting for transplants. It is important, then, that we all play our part in nurturing a public debate on organ donation, and in encouraging others to share their views on the subject with their loved ones. 

Organ donation is an action of incredible solidarity. It is also a very sensitive and emotional question, entangled with feeling of loss and bereavement. Yet, in a deeply emotional and paradoxical way, it also ties into notions of life renewed and continued: in the gesture of donating their organs or tissues, donors give to others, whom they do not know, the most precious of gifts, the gift of life itself.

However sensitive the issue may be, we should not, as a society, avoid discussing the fundamental moral questions raised by organ donation. The technologies and practices of organ donation and transplant surgery have a profound influence on the ways in which we conceptualise the human body, on how we relate body parts to the whole – to the person.

The shortage of donated organs also has, of course, very grave social and ethical implications globally, when organs are illegally removed from the body for the purpose of commercial transactions. The World Health Organisation has recently issued most disquieting warnings on the scale of the contemporary global trade in body parts, of which the poorer of this world are the primary victims. Associations such as yours, and the European Federation of which you are part, do have, I believe, an important role to play in denouncing and combating such practices.

The story of the development of organ transplants is one of great successes of modern medicine and indeed it stands as one of the great triumphs of human scientific achievement. The capacity to translate tragic loss into the gift of life for individuals and their families is truly something to be celebrated, to be cherished and to be promoted.

When I look around this room, it is heartening to see so many people dedicated to advancing the great cause of organ donation, thus enhancing the life of all of our fellow citizens. May I thank you, once again, for the great work you are doing, and wish you the very best in your future endeavours.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh go léir.