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Northern Ireland legislation offers more hope to transplant patients

01 March 2023

New legislation has been passed to allow an opt-out organ donation system to be implemented in Northern Ireland, bringing greater hope to people on the transplant waiting list. The law was named after six-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann, who needs a heart transplant.

The opt-out system

The new legislation will bring arrangements in Northern Ireland in line with the rest of the UK, where people are assumed to be potential organ donors after they die, rather than having to sign the register, or opt in, to be a donor. The ‘opt out’ system, also called deemed consent or presumed consent, means people need to sign the opt-out register if they do not wish to donate their organs when they die. Families will continue to be involved before organ donation goes ahead.

With Northern Ireland devoid of a government since March 2022 the power sharing agreement collapsed, had ramped up their activities, anxious that the necessary legislation wouldn’t go live this spring as had been planned due to the impasse at Stormont. Responding to the pressure from kidney patients and others, the UK Government amended and fast tracked another bill to ensure that Northern Ireland joins the rest of the UK in having new organ donation laws.

It is expected it will now take around three months for the opt-out system to begin in Northern Ireland.

Welcome news for kidney patients

“This is very welcome news for kidney patients awaiting transplants in Northern Ireland and we congratulate the campaigners on their fantastic achievement in finding a way through the political deadlock,” said Alison Railton, head of policy and external affairs at Kidney Research UK. “It is hoped this legislation will allow for more potential organs to become available for to help reduce the time people wait, and save more lives.”

“It is important people know the opt out system still allows you to choose whether or not you want to be an organ and tissue donor. All you need to do is register your decision and tell your family and your decision will be respected.”

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