Bill to change organ donation rules moves one step closer to becoming law

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A Bill which would change the organ donation rules in Northern Ireland has passed its latest stage at Stormont.

The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill would create a law that all adults become potential donors unless they specifically opt out or are excluded.

Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where an opt-out system for organ donation is not in place.

The Bill was introduced by Health Minister Robin Swann who said it could help to reduce the number of people waiting for life-saving organ transplants.

During the debate several MLAs warned that the legislation could be impacted by a DUP threat to collapse the powersharing institutions in protest at the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Following a vote, the Bill passed by 69 votes to six and will now pass to the committee stage for further scrutiny.

Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann has warned that proposed organ donation reforms may never become law if the Stormont Assembly collapses before it is passed.

Asked about the prospect of the Bill for a soft opt-in system falling if the DUP follows through with its threat to pull down the institutions in protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, Mr Swann told reporters at Stormont: “I don’t think we can afford that to happen.

“I don’t think we can afford that to happen on a number of pieces of legislation, never mind just on organ donation here in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Swann added: “There’s so much could easily be lost if we don’t keep this place going and actually delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

“I have a number of pieces of legislation coming forward as Health Minister that need to get through this house and if they don’t get through by May and there as a hiatus or this place goes into suspension again I can’t see a point of when they actually come back.”

Speaking following the second reading of the bill, he said: “Today is another positive step forward in what has been a long journey for all involved in the organ donation process. It has been a privilege to bring the Second Stage of the Bill to the Assembly today and very timely that Assembly colleagues have agreed to the motion on the first day of Organ Donation Week.” 

Minister Swann continued: “In Northern Ireland we have a good record of organ donation, which we should rightly be proud of. However, with so many local people waiting for a transplant, we must do all we can to increase the number of organs available for transplantation.

“The Organ Donation Bill, which we hope will be enacted in Spring 2023, will strengthen the current legislative framework around organ donation and will increase the current rate of consent in the small number of cases in which it is clinically possible for organ donation to proceed after a person’s death.  Doing so will increase the overall number of donors, and ultimately the number of lifesaving organs available for transplantation.”

Turning to Organ Donation Week, the Health Minister urged everyone in Northern Ireland to talk to their family and friends about organ donation: “It remains important for people to discuss their wishes with friends and family, and to join the Organ Donor Register – this week presents the perfect opportunity to have that conversation. Currently, 50% of the Northern Ireland population has signed the Organ Donor Register, but we still need more as there are around 115 Northern Ireland residents on the active waiting list for a lifesaving transplant.”

(Dáithí, Maírtín and Seph Mac Gabhann have been campaigning for the law change as Daithi is waiting on a heart transplant)

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