Health Minister launches consultation on statutory opt-out for organ donation

14th December 2020

Health Minister Robin Swann has urged people to talk to their loved ones about organ donation as he launches a consultation on an opt-out system.

The purpose of the consultation is to seek the public’s views on how to introduce a soft opt-out organ donation system for Northern Ireland. This would require new legislation to change the current system here, from opt-in to opt-out.

Making the announcement, Minister Swann said: “Whilst over 80% of the population supports organ donation, only 48% have recorded this decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.  This means that the NHS Organ Donor Register is not truly representative of Northern Ireland’s population’s willingness to donate their organs and tissue after their death.

“On Organ Donation Discussion Day, I would urge everyone to have the conversation about donation with their families and friends and let your loved ones know how you feel about this vitally important issue I would also encourage responses to the consultation to inform the proposed change in legislation.”

One donor has the potential to save up to 9 lives, and in 2019/20 in Northern Ireland there were 51 deceased donors and 89 life-saving and life transforming transplants from deceased donors for Northern Ireland residents. However there are still 115 people in Northern Ireland on the waiting list and last year 11 people in Northern Ireland died while awaiting an organ transplant.

Currently in Northern Ireland donation will only ever proceed if a person had given their express consent for organ donation, usually by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register and/or speaking to their family. In the absence of this, the family is asked to make a decision on behalf of the patient.

Under the proposed opt-out legislation, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out. The family would continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs. This will not change.

Knowing first-hand the agony of life on the waiting list for a life-saving transplant, is Máirtín Mac Gabhann, father of 4 year old heart patient Dáithí, who has campaigned for the change in legislation. Máirtín made this appeal to the public: “Dáithí was placed on the waiting list for a heart transplant in June 2018 and has remained on it since. I would urge everyone to have their say in the consultation, but most importantly, sign the Organ Donor Register and let your loved ones know your wishes. You never know when the need for an organ transplant might arrive at your door.”

The consultation will run for 10 weeks, closing on 19 February 2021. Everyone is encouraged to read about the consultation and submit a response at www.health-ni.gov.uk/consultations/organ-donation