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Opt-out organ donation law passes final stage in Northern Ireland Assembly

The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill has passed through its final stage in the Northern Ireland Assembly. It now only needs royal assent to become law. The Bill, which will come into effect in 2023 following a year-long public awareness campaign, will 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 called for the introduction of such a system in response to a consultation by the Department of Health in 2021. Today it has welcomed the Bill clearing its final Assembly hurdle.

Northern Ireland currently operates an opt-in system. This means organ donors must sign up to an organ donor register. The problem with this system 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 in 2021. Opt-out legislation is currently waiting to come into force in Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We commend the Northern Ireland Executive for bringing forth this Bill and the Assembly for passing it. In so doing, they are granting patients in Northern Ireland the same opportunity to benefit from an organ transplant as those elsewhere in the UK. Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes a reason to object to allowing a deceased person’s organs being used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish. This simple policy change will save lives and reduce suffering for the people of Northern Ireland.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 07918 975795.

Humanists UK was a driving force behind the move to opt-out systems in England and Wales, with Humanist Society Scotland backing similar proposals in Scotland. It was part of NHS England’s advisory group on the new law. Humanists UK also responded to consultations in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Committee inquiry into presumed consent for organ donation, helping usher in the change in law in Wales in 2015.

Read about the passage of this Bill.

Read about the humanist perspective on organ donation.

Read more about our campaign work on organ donation.

Watch our video with Jamie Theakston raising awareness about organ donation.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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