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Jo-Anne Dobson's organ donor Bill sunk on same day terminally-ill pal went into hospice

By Allan Preston

Published 11/02/2016

Jo-Anne Dobson with her best friend, Louise Peacock, who died of cancer
Jo-Anne Dobson with her best friend, Louise Peacock, who died of cancer
Jo-Anne Dobson at Stormont yesterday

UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson is temporarily abandoning her organ donation Bill, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

She claimed the DUP and Sinn Fein "ganged up together to rip the Bill apart piece by piece" at one of the final hurdles before it could be passed.

Mrs Dobson has long campaigned to change the law so that people will be automatically registered as organ donors unless they choose to opt out.

Her Private Member's Bill was tabled three years ago, but after initial support, its clauses were opposed by the Assembly's health committee.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Mrs Dobson insisted she would continue the fight to change the law.

She also told how the committee blow came on the same day as she received devastating news about a close friend. "It's difficult to take because when I went into that committee and watched the hands go up two weeks ago, it was the same day my best friend went into the hospice for terminal cancer," Mrs Dobson explained.

Louise Peacock passed away on January 31 as a result of secondary breast cancer, aged just 48.

"This (Bill) has an important part of my life," said Mrs Dobson. "My son was diagnosed with kidney failure when he was five weeks old, and when I launched my Private Member's Bill three years ago last week, it was the fourth anniversary of his transplant.

"It has been three years of hard work. I'm only a backbench MLA trying to do all the important legislation that Government should be doing. I'm doing all the heavy lifting on my own."

When her Bill was introduced in 2013, she said there was support from Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness. But a major challenge emerged in November, just as the Human Transplantation Bill passed its second legislative stage at Stormont.

Senior surgeons wrote to Health Minister Simon Hamilton saying they were concerned the soft opt-out system would actually reduce public willingness to register as organ donors.

Two weeks ago, at the committee stage, Mrs Dobson said that the two big parties ganged up together and "gutted" the legislation. The soft opt-out clause was removed, leaving just a commitment by the Government to promote donation. "I wanted to bring a Bill that meant something," Mrs Dobson said. "If I brought what we're left with, it's nothing. I'm only going to get one chance, so I'm going to withdraw it because when I get to the chamber, the two big parties that voted against it and killed it in committee will gang up and do the same."

It is now the MLA's intention, if she is re-elected, to bring the legislation back in the next Assembly term. "I think I owe it to the campaigners," she said. "I'm a very determined person and the campaign goes on. I may have lost the battle, but the fight will continue.

Asked why she believed the result would be any different in a new term, Mrs Dobson replied that she believed public support and new faces at Stormont would make the difference. "I have personally been overwhelmed by the public support that I have received," she added. "The public are very much behind organ donation."

And addressing the concerns of senior surgeons in Northern Ireland who argued the soft opt-out would turn people away from organ donation, she said: "Some of those clinicians (gave their support) during consultation stage, so I have a letter drafted to ask why have their opinions changed in that short space of time?"

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