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Organ donation Bill 'total gobbledygook', says Joe Brolly

Published 06/01/2016

Joe Brolly, left, donated a kidney to fellow GAA enthusiast Shane Finnegan, right (Aiken PR/PA)
Joe Brolly, left, donated a kidney to fellow GAA enthusiast Shane Finnegan, right (Aiken PR/PA)

Proposed legislation on organ donation is "total gobbledygook", according to one of Northern Ireland's most high-profile living donors.

GAA pundit Joe Brolly, who gave a kidney to a friend and clubmate three years ago, said the Human Transplantation Bill must be simplified.

In evidence to the Stormont health scrutiny committee, Mr Brolly, a practising barrister, said : "The problem with the Bill as it stands is that it is very confusing.

"I think that Stephen Hawking couldn't understand this Bill. I mean I am a lawyer, it's what I do, it is my daily bread. It is impossible to understand."

Last year Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson introduced a Private Member's Bill calling for the adoption of a "soft opt-out" system whereby people would be presumed donors unless they state otherwise before their deaths.

Under the new model, family members would still have the final say on whether organs would be donated.

Mrs Dobson, whose son Mark received a life-changing kidney transplant, wants to adopt a system similar to the one introduced in Wales.

If legislation is brought forward it must be simple, non-threatening and not divisive, Mr Brolly said.

"If it is simple it is easy to publicise," he added. "What we have always supported is a simple organ donation act that reflects reality."

Improving infrastructure and increasing public awareness are also important, it was claimed.

Mr Brolly, who was representing the Opt for Life charity, cautioned against rushing through legislation and said the Bill could be easily "saved" by making amendments.

Northern Ireland should have a "simply family consent act" with an opt-out for those who are opposed to organ donation, the committee was told.

"Organ donation is a fragile system and is very difficult to get it right," said Mr Brolly.

It was also revealed that donation rates have increased dramatically in recent years with Northern Ireland topping the global list for living donors.

Deceased donations have reached 25 per million population -- up from 16 per million in 2008 and 14 per million in 2007.

There are also 16 specialist nurses in the region compared with just five in the Irish Republic.

In Spain, which is widely hailed as a model of good practice, donation rates are 36 per million.

During a full day of oral evidence on the Bill, the committee also heard from intensive care consultants, charity workers, the British Medical Association and the Human Tissue Authority as well as representatives from the church and pro-life groups.

Chairman Maeve McLaughlin of Sinn Fein said MLAs would reflect carefully on everything they had heard.

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