Ministers meet organ donation campaigners as new legislation moves forward

Date published: 25 June 2021

The First Minister, deputy First Minister and Health Minister have met with organ donation campaigners to mark significant progress in new soft opt-out organ donation legislation.

Paul Givan, Michelle O’Neill and Robin Swann welcomed campaigners Dáithí, Maírtín and Seph Mac Gabhann to Stormont Castle after the Executive signed off the Health Minister’s proposed legislation on new soft opt-out organ donation legislation, which will now proceed to the NI Assembly.  

Four-year-old Dáithí has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant for more than three years. His family have been campaigning for a move towards soft opt-out law and to raise awareness of organ donation.

Under the proposed opt-out legislation, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted out or fall into one of the exempted categories. The family would continue to be consulted about donation as well as considerations around faith and beliefs.

Around 115 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list, and every year around 10-15 people in Northern Ireland die waiting on an organ transplant. As only a very small proportion (around 1%) of deaths occur in circumstances where organ donation can proceed, any increase in the rate of consent will make more life-saving organs available for transplantation.

First Minister Paul Givan said:

“I’m pleased that the soft opt-out organ donation bill is now able to progress to the Assembly for scrutiny and debate. This is a landmark day for so many people and their families who are currently on a waiting list.

“Today I had the joy and privilege of meeting one of the youngest, the amazing Dáithí Mac Gabhann, along with his father Maírtín. I am in awe of his fighting spirit. He deserves the hope that this Bill brings.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said:

“I’m delighted that we have now been able to move this life-saving legislation forward and it will now progress to the next stage in the Assembly.

“As little Dáithí visited us at Stormont Castle today, we didn’t need to look too far to see the enormous difference this legislation will make in the lives of people awaiting transplants, and to their families. It’s the gift of life and the gift of hope. The Mac Gabhann family – Dáithí and his mummy and daddy, Seph and Maírtín, have led a strong and dignified campaign for change and they should be so proud of the work they’ve done to achieve that.

“We don’t need to wait for the new legislation to think about organ donation. People waiting for transplants don’t have the luxury of time so I would urge everyone to have the conversation with their families today. It could save a life.”

Health Minister Robin Swann said:

“The introduction of a soft-opt out system would be a significant step forward for organ donation in Northern Ireland. We already have an excellent record in organ donation and transplantation but soft-opt out will enable many more lives to be saved every year.

“My Department has recently consulted on this and it is clear that there is public support for a shift to soft-opt out. Therefore I welcome the Executive’s agreement this week and look forward to bringing the Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill to the Assembly.

“I would also like to pay tribute to the campaigners who have helped get us to this stage. In particular, Joanne Dobson and Dáithí Mac Gabhann and his family. They have done tremendous work and should be commended.”

Notes to editors: 

The exempted categories would include people under 18, visitors to Northern Ireland, people who lack mental capacity – this is in line with the opt-out frameworks in place in Wales, England and Scotland.

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