From 2023, adults in Northern Ireland will be considered potential organ donors unless they choose to opt out or are in an excluded group.
The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, which passed the final stage of consideration in the Assembly today, will be known as ‘Dáithí’s Law’ in recognition of five-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann.
Dáithí has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant since 2018. During this time his family have worked tirelessly to campaign for a move towards soft opt-out law and to promote organ donation.
Welcoming the landmark law change, Health Minister Robin Swann said: “I’m delighted that the soft opt-out bill has passed today. It marks a hugely significant step forward for all those waiting for a transplant.
“The new law 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.”
The Health Minister also thanked campaigners for their support in getting the law passed. Minister Swann said: “I want to once again place on record my sincere thanks to Jo-Anne Dobson who personally first convinced me that our organ donation laws needed to change.
“I also want to thank the many individuals, families, teachers, patient support groups and charities across Northern Ireland who have worked tirelessly over many years to promote organ donation. There are too many to name, but particular recognition must go Dáithí, Máirtín and Seph Mac Gabhann for their resolve in not only campaigning for a change in law but also in raising awareness of organ donation. It is fitting that the change in organ donation law be referred to as ‘Dáithí’s Law’."
With effect from Spring 2023, it will be considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out or fall into one of the exempted categories. Families will continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs. A public awareness campaign will be launched ahead of the change coming into effect, to make sure people understand the new opt-out system and the choices they have.
Speaking following the final Assembly reading, Máirtín Mac Gabhann, said: "This is a very emotional day for us as a family. Dáithí was accepted onto the waiting list for a new heart in 2018 and since then we have put everything into raising awareness of organ donation and campaigning for the law to change.
"It has been a long journey to get to this point but we are just so happy that this potentially life-saving legislation has been passed for Northern Ireland and very proud that the new law will be named after Dáithí.”
If you would like to sign the register or would like more information, please take the time to visit the organ donation NI website which is packed full of information and resources.
Notes to editors:
- Families will always be involved before organ donation goes ahead. Whatever you decide, the best thing you can do is talk with your loved ones to give them the certainty they need to support your decision. Only half of families agree to donation if they don’t know their loved one’s decision, but this rises to 9 out of 10 if they know their loved one wanted to donate
- Each year in Northern Ireland around 10-15 people die while awaiting a transplant. In 2020/21 there are around 115 people in NI on the waiting list.
- 90% of people in Northern Ireland support organ donation. But only half of people have signed the Organ Donor Register
- Only 1% of people die in circumstances where donation is possible, therefore every donation is precious
- You can also become a living donor: Across the UK, more than 1,000 people each year donate a kidney or part of their liver while they are still alive to a relative, friend or even someone they do not know. The most commonly donated organ by a living person is a kidney. Part of a liver can also be transplanted from a living donor to help someone in need of a liver transplant.
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