Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 28 December 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Scuppering organ donation 'opt-out' plan in Northern Ireland is just crazy

Support: Joe Brolly and Jo-Anne Dobson
Support: Joe Brolly and Jo-Anne Dobson

It is hard to fathom why the DUP has moved away from an 'opt-out' system of organ donation, unless it is to deny the Ulster Unionists a success with the election coming.

Jo-Anne Dobson, UUP MLA for Upper Bann, a first-time candidate, who scraped in with 7.9% of first-preference votes in 2011, has been building her profile, not least on this issue, ever since. Does the DUP want to put a spoke in her wheels?

It didn't look like it until lately. Party leader Peter Robinson supported the measure and Edwin Poots, DUP health minister, also appeared well disposed.

A public consultation attracted 1,366 responses and 32% were in favour of changing the present system to one of consent being presumed unless someone chooses to opt out.

Ms Dobson had allayed one of the main concerns by specifying that, though consent would be presumed, relatives would have the last say if they believed their loved-one would have preferred not to donate.

That 'soft' opt-out system works well in countries like Australia and Spain.

Changing the law is cheap. That makes a change to the high cost of solving the other problems of our health service.

No major religious denomination is opposed to organ donation, either; all regard organ donation as a praiseworthy act of compassion and altruism. There is simply no organised opposition to the measure.

Lives will be lost through delay. Our ageing population and less-healthy lifestyles have led to an increase in diseases, like diabetes.

This means that kidneys for transplant are in ever-higher demand and the operation is now fairly routine.

On the supply side, we have thankfully succeeded in reducing road-traffic deaths. This is good, but improved road safety reduces the number of healthy organs for transplant.

The case seems overwhelming and it's hard to see why Alastair Ross of the DUP is opposed and wants, instead, to concentrate on promoting the organ register and giving people the opportunity to opt out, or opt in, when they apply for a driving licence, as happens in England.

The fact is both systems can work. We can encourage people to make their wishes known during life and we can also presume consent, with relatives having a veto, if no wish has been expressed. We don't need another consultation, or a political row, either. This is an easy decision to take.

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