Northern Ireland Humanists welcome opt-out organ donation law

1 June, 2023

Today, a new law in Northern Ireland introduces an opt-out system for organ donation. This means that, adults living in Northern Ireland 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. It welcomes today’s introduction of the opt-out system as an important move to save lives.

Up until now, Northern Ireland operated an opt-in system of organ donation. This meant potential organ donors had to sign up to an organ donor register. The problem with the opt-in system was that while many people were happy to donate their organs, they did not sign up for the register or  discuss their wishes with their family or friends. This meant that medical professionals were not aware that they wished to consent to organ donation. Today, that system changes as Northern Ireland adopts an opt-out system for organ donation, bringing it in line with the rest of the UK. Opt-out systems were already introduced in Wales in 2015, Jersey in 2019, England in 2020, Scotland in 2021 and Guernsey earlier this year. The Isle of Man has legislation that is expected to change the law in the near future. A bill is also under consideration in the Republic of Ireland.

After the public consultation showed overwhelming public support, the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill was first laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly from July 2021, passing its final stage in February 2022 and receiving Royal Assent in March 2022, making the Act become law.

The new law is known as Dáithí’s Law after Dáithí MacGabhann, who has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for six years. At the time of writing, there are approximately 146 people in Northern Ireland on the waiting list for organ transplants, and 10 to 15 people die each year waiting for organs. Evidence suggests that an opt-out system enables more organs to be donated, saving lives. After its introduction in Wales, consent rates for donation increased from 58% in 2015 to 77% by 2019. 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.

Humanists do not believe in a continued existence of the self after death or place an additional spiritual value upon the body, and as such they do not generally object to allowing their organs to be used to help others after death. Most humanists would consider that we have a moral responsibility to allow our organs to be used for transplantation, if that will help save lives and improve the quality of life for others.

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented:

‘We are delighted to see an opt-out system of organ donation come into effect in Northern Ireland. You only have to look at the evidence from England and Wales –  this system will save lives and reduce the suffering of those waiting for a transplant.

‘As humanists, we do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes a reason to object to allowing a deceased person’s organs being used to save the lives of others, unless the deceased has expressed a wish to the contrary. This system places stronger protections on the rights of all individuals to determine what happens to their body and organs after death.

‘Northern Ireland Humanists encourage everyone to make sure their wishes are known.’

What do you need to know about this new law?

From 1 June 2023, if you are an adult living in Northern Ireland, it will be considered that you agree to being an organ donor after you die unless you choose to opt out or are in an excluded group.

Excluded groups include:

  • Those under the age of 18
  • People who lack the mental capacity to understand the change in law
  • Visitors to Northern Ireland
  • Temporary residents

It is important that you make your wishes know to others:

  1. Talk to your family members about your wishes. Whether you wish to donate or not, it is important that those closest to you are aware of your views.
  1. If you wish to donate, register as an organ donor. This helps reinforce your decision to donate.
  1. If you do not wish to donate, you will need to register an opt-out, which you will be able to do on the Organ Donation Northern Ireland website.

You can read more about the change to the law on the Organ Donation Northern Ireland website.


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

Read about the humanist perspective on organ donation.

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on 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 110,000 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.

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 (then) Welsh Assembly Committee inquiry into presumed consent for organ donation, helping usher in the change in law in Wales in 2015.