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Northern Ireland leaders back opt-out system of organ donation

Northern Ireland’s political leaders have given their support to proposals for an ‘opt-out’ system of organ donation.  First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness gave their support to the opt-out campaign at Belfast City Hospital on Tuesday, and a public consultation has been launched on the proposals for the new system.  The First Minister and Deputy First Minister said that they would introduce legislation to set up the new system if the consultation receives a positive response.  The British Humanist Association (BHA), which supports a soft opt-out system of organ donation, welcomes the new proposals.

Both the UK and the Irish Republic currently operate opt-in systems of organ donation, in which people have to register themselves.  However, under a presumed consent or opt-out system, people are automatically presumed to have given consent for their organs to be donated after their death, unless they have indicated that they wish to opt out.  The new proposals have been put forward by Northern Ireland’s Health Minister Edwin Poots.  This follows the Welsh Government’s recent consultation on organ donation, which finished in January (it was also reported today that the UK Government will not object to a Bill for a system of presumed consent in Wales).  Edwin Poots said that the Northern Ireland Executive had decided to go ahead with its own proposals, after the UK Prime Minister David Cameron indicated to him that there were no plans for a UK-wide system of presumed consent.

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness gave their support to the the opt-out campaign at Belfast City Hospital, where they toured the Regional Nephrology and Transplant Service with former GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association) football player Joe Brolly, who became an organ donation campaigner last year after giving a kidney to a friend (the transplant was unsuccessful after medical complications).  There are approximately 200 people on the active transplant waiting list in Northern Ireland, and 15 people die each year while waiting for a transplant.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We welcome the new consultation and proposals for organ donation in Northern Ireland.  The BHA supports a soft system of presumed consent in which the views of family members are taken into account, and which would be accompanied by a comprehensive education and awareness raising programme.  Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes any reason to object to allowing deceased humans’ organs to be used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish.’

Up to 90% of people support donating their organs for transplant on their death, but levels of organ donation remain extremely low.  We are concerned that the low number of organs donated across Europe is contributing to unnecessary suffering, a large number of unnecessary deaths and to a market in organs and even trafficking in human beings for the purpose of removing organs.  Ideally, we would like to see change across the UK to a system of presumed consent, not only in Northern Ireland and Wales’.


For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at or on 0773 843 5059.

UTV – NI leaders back organ donation reform:

The Irish Examiner – Organ donation opt-out plan for Northern Ireland:

The Irish Times – North to hold public hearings on opt-out organ donor scheme:

Consultation on the Human Transplantation (Wales) Bill:

Wales Online – Organ Bill Deal:

Proposed change to organ donation system in Wales welcomed by BHA:

The BHA’s campaign on organ donation:

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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