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Opt-out organ donation bill laid before Northern Ireland Assembly

The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill has been laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly. This Bill, if passed into law, would introduce a ‘soft opt-out’ system of organ donation. This means that people will in general be presumed to have wanted to donate their organs after death. That is, unless they have opted out, or their relatives provide evidence that they did not want to donate. Northern Ireland Humanists has welcomed the Bill. It has called upon all members of the Assembly to ensure that it passes within this session.

Northern Ireland currently operates an opt-in system. This means organ donors must sign up to an organ donor register. The problem is that many people who are happy to donate their organs do not sign up for the register. So medical professionals are not aware that they wished to consent.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK that does not currently have an opt-out system. 115 people are waiting for a transplant and every year around 10-15 people die whilst waiting. Wales moved to opt-out in 2015, followed by Jersey in 2019, England in 2020, and Scotland earlier this year. Opt-out legislation is currently waiting to come into force in Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Evidence suggests that the system enables more organs to be donated, saving lives. Since its introduction in Wales consent rates for donation have increased from 58% in 2015 to 71%. In England 296 people donated 714 organs as a result of the new system in its first year. This was almost a third of all organ donors.

In February, Northern Ireland Humanists called for the introduction of an opt-out system in response to a consultation by the Department of Health.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented: ‘We are pleased that the Northern Ireland Assembly will consider this Bill. It has a good chance of being law soon. This will save lives and reduce suffering because more organs will be available for transplant. Passing this law will make sure that those waiting for a transplant are not left behind.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at press@humanists.uk or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.

Read more about our work on organ donation.

Read our response to the Department of Health’s consultation.

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