Charity urges NI to adopt presumed consent law for organ donation

The British Heart Foundation has marked the anniversary of presumed consent for organ donation in England by calling for the same measure to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 1:48 pm
Updated Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 5:43 pm

Today, May 20, marks one year since ‘Max and Keira’s Law’ took effect in England meaning the law there now presumes everyone consents to donate their organs.

However potential donors and their families are still allowed to opt out before donation, which is known as ‘the soft opt out system’.

Wales adopted the same system in 2015 and Scotland in March this year. In NI people must still register in order to become organ donors.

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Chief Executive of BHF NI Fergal McKinney with Mairtin MacGabhawn and his four-year-old son Daithi, who urgently needs a heart transplant. Photo: Press Eye.

A public consultation on how to change NI’s legislation closed in February and the Department of Health is currently analysing the responses before bringing legislation forward to the Assembly.  

Fearghal McKinney, Head of the BHF NI, said the province must now follow the rest of the UK.

 “Today England is marking one year of Max and Kiera’s law which is offering patients the much-needed hope that a donor could be found before it’s too late,” he said. “We also need that hope for patients in Northern Ireland. “ 

The BHF highlights the case of Dáithí MacGabhann from west Belfast, who only has half a working heart and has been waiting for a transplant for almost three years.

His father Máirtín said it is worrying to hear from their consultant that Covid-19 has stopped much transplant activity.

“We are beyond grateful that Dáithí has remained stable but to hear that there has not been a lot of transplant activity recently does scare us,” he said.

In 2016 the UUP accused Sinn Fein and DUP members of the Stormont Health Committee of joining forces to block aspects of its private members bills, which would have introduced presumed consent for NI.

At the time, some of NI’s most senior clinicians warned the health committee that the bill was unhelpful and potentially damaging.

The DUP said presumed consent was “unnecessary and potentially counter-productive” while Sinn Fein said the responsibility lay with the health minister “to promote organ donation through education and awareness”.

However public affairs charity CARE yesterday urged caution.

 “CARE wholeheartedly supports organ donation, however there are big ethical questions to be addressed before any change in the law is considered,” said spokesman James Mildred. “Our concerns about an opt-out system are primarily practical and ethical. Is it right for the state to presume consent of an individual’s organs?

“Moreover, the evidence from places where an opt-out system has been introduced tell a complex story. What we can say is that an opt-out system is not guaranteed to work, whereas the evidence tells us that what does work is investing in more specialist organ donation nurses.”

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