Time running out to change NI organ donation rule, says dad of four-year-old who needs heart transplant

The father of a four-year-old Belfast boy who needs a heart transplant has warned that time is running out for a law-change that would increase his chances of an organ donation.

Friday, 11th June 2021, 6:30 am
The Mac Gabhann family met with Health Minister Robin Swann in December to urge him to introduce legislation for an ‘opt out’ organ donation system

With less than a month to go before the Assembly goes into recess, Mairtin Mac Gabhann, whose son Daithi has been on the transplant waiting list for some time, said action is needed now to bring organ donation rules in Northern Ireland into line with the rest of the UK.

Mr Mac Gabhann has been campaigning for some time to secure a change to the laws here that would see people asked to ‘opt out’ rather than opt in’ if they wish to donate their organs.

Similar laws are already in place in England, Scotland and Wales.

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Figures published last month show that, on March 31 this year there were 115 people waiting for an organ transplant in Northern Ireland, with 16 of them waiting on a new heart – with little Daithi amongst them.

Mr Mac Gabhann told the News Letter he has received written confirmation from each of the ministers on the Northern Ireland Executive that they are backing plans to change the rules — with the exception of the outgoing DUP ministers Arlene Foster, Diane Dodds and Peter Weir.

However, senior DUP figures, including the new deputy leader of the party Paula Bradley during her time as health spokesperson, have expressed support for the idea.

“There’s a real urgency to this,” Mr Mac Gabhann said.

“It needs to be on the Assembly floor before the summer recess or there’s a good chance it doesn’t go through at all.”

He continued: “The thing is, there are so many things that need to go through and it’s going to be hectic. But there’s been too much work that’s gone on to get this done and it needs to happen.

“It needs to be on the Executive agenda to go on to the Assembly floor for the first and second readings of the bill before the summer recess.”

Daithi, who is due to celebrate his fifth birthday in October, recently passed three years on the heart transplant waiting list.

“We had a transplant reassessment back in May and they said he is still stable, which is the best we could hope for because stability means time – it’s time to try and increase the number of organ donors, time to increase consent rates, and it’s time to get this legislation in place,” he said.

“We can’t get Daithi a heart but what we can do is everything we can to increase everyone’s chances, and then that would include Daithi.

“That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s why it is so urgent.”