Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 25 November 2014

My alternative organ donor Bill isn't floundering, insists DUP MLA

The proposer of the original organ donor Bill, Jo-Anne Dobson, with dialysis patient Justin Weir at Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry
The proposer of the original organ donor Bill, Jo-Anne Dobson, with dialysis patient Justin Weir at Daisy Hill Hospital, Newry

A DUP Assembly Member has dismissed speculation his proposed Bill supporting an 'opt in' option for organ donation in Northern Ireland is facing difficulties progressing through Stormont.

In January Alastair Ross confirmed he was bringing forward a Private Member's Bill to the Assembly on organ donation for an opt in system via drivers' licences.

However, as speculation mounted that the proposal was facing problems, Mr Ross insisted last night he had not withdrawn his Bill.

He added that he "continues to campaign that the best way to increase organ donation is through highly visible, joined-up information campaigns".

Mr Ross highlighted that latest figures from NHS Blood and Transplant show there have been 3,450 new Northern Ireland residents on the Organ Donor Register since February 11. This is the result of the recent publicity campaign.

"We need more of the same," he said.

His planned Bill came despite Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson lobbying for over a year for a new law to adopt a 'soft opt-out' system.

The new law spearheaded by Mrs Dobson would mean that all adults will be considered as eligible for organ donation unless they chose to opt out. Anyone's decision to opt out would also be kept "absolutely confidential".

She insists a family member, however, would always have the final say in whether an organ is donated. Mr Ross said he disagreed with her proposals on ethical grounds.

Mrs Dobson tabled her Private Member's Bill in December 2012.

It is now at the drafting stage and was scheduled to be brought before the Assembly this spring.

Mr Ross denied his move for a separate system was political.

The DUP man, a member of the All Party Group on Organ Donation, said he agreed on many issues with Mrs Dobson but not the new system, which he described as "presumed consent".

Meanwhile, Mrs Dobson is set to meet the First and Deputy First Minister next week.

She believes receiving full support from the Executive will improve awareness and strengthen the Bill.

"I just think it is important that we have the full support of the Executive behind this," she said.

"On March 25 I am meeting the First and Deputy First Minister.

"I think it is important to say the soft opt out movement is bigger than me.

"This is something the charities and so many people are fully behind."

In February Health Minister Edwin Poots announced further public consultation and evidence was needed before the Executive supported the soft opt-out system.

"It just feels that they are leaving something that is so critically important to a backbench MLA," said Mrs Dobson.

Mr Robinson agreed to the meeting two weeks ago, after she challenged the First Minister in the Assembly chamber about not replying to a request to meet.

A date, however, was arranged on March 25.

Mrs Dobson added: "I'm bringing the charities with me, as they are all supporting 'soft opt out'.

"We owe it to Northern Ireland. The Executive can research until the cows come home, but I think we need action finally on something so important."

How the transport debate has unfolded

December 2012: UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson tables a Private Member's Bill at the Northern Ireland Assembly to change the existing organ donation laws in Northern Ireland.

June 2013: The process moves forward when a consultation proposing a 'soft opt out' system is launched.

September 2013: It is announced that presumed consent for organ donations will start in December 2015 in Wales following a two-year information campaign.

October 2013: Results of consultation presented to the Assembly by Mrs Dobson show that, from 1,366 responses, 82% agree with a change in the law and a move to a new soft opt out system.

October 2013: A major survey by the Public Health Agency finds that 84% of respondents support the idea of organ donation. The survey also finds:

Over a third (36%) of respondents are not aware of the Organ Donor Register.

78% of respondents say they would be willing to accept an organ if necessary.

78% of respondents agree that it is important to discuss your donation wishes with your family and/or friends. However, only 38% have done so.

January 2014: DUP MLA Alastair Ross confirms he will be bringing forward a new Private Member's Bill to the Assembly on organ donation. He wants an 'opt in' system' via drivers' licences after disagreeing with Mrs Dobson's proposals on ethical grounds.

February 2014: Edwin Poots announces further public consultation and evidence is needed before the Executive supports the soft opt out system.

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