Organ donation plea to families
Families in Northern Ireland have been urged to sit down and talk about the difficult issue of organ donation before it is too late.
A new campaign is asking people to make sure their loved ones know and understand their views on whether their organs should be donated in the event of their death.
Research by the Public Health Agency indicates that more than eight out of 10 people in the region support donation.
However the PHA statistics also show that almost 40% of families do not agree to the move when faced with the choice after the death of a loved one. Close relatives always have the final say on donation regardless of whether someone has signed up to the organ register.
With countries such as Spain having only a 15% family refusal rate, the campaign has highlighted the need for people in Northern Ireland to talk the issue over with their nearest and dearest.
The awareness-raising campaign was launched in Belfast today and aims to build momentum towards December 11 - a day earmarked as a good opportunity to sit down and have the discussion.
The campaign comes as Stormont continues to consider potential reforms to the current system in Northern Ireland, including a presumed consent model and a less radical "opt-in" system which would ask people to state their view when they apply for a driving licence.
Dr Eddie Rooney, chief executive of the Public Health Agency, said: "Research has shown that families who are aware of their loved ones' wishes are more likely to donate their organs should the situation arise. This campaign is targeted at bringing about behavioural change and encouraging people to sit down together and have the conversation in the run-up to Christmas, which is a traditional time for families to come together.
"In Northern Ireland almost 200 people are currently waiting for a transplant and sadly the chance will come too late for many, with 15 people each year dying while on the waiting list. Through the organ donation discussion day on December 11 we want to ensure as many families as possible are aware of the benefits of organ donation and have the knowledge of what their loved ones would want."
As well as the PHA, the campaign is being supported by Opt For Life, the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland, the British Medical Association and Aiken PR.
Among those who attended the event at Maryville House were high-profile organ donor campaigners Joe Brolly and Shane Finnegan.
Mr Brolly, who won the all-Ireland Gaelic football title with Derry in 1993 and is now a successful barrister in Belfast, made headlines across Ireland when he donated one of his kidneys to Mr Finnegan, a fellow volunteer children's coach at his local GAA club.
The transplant operation on PR executive Mr Finnegan ultimately failed when the organ stopped working but since then the two men have become vocal campaigners on the issue.
The new campaign is urging people to use the hashtag #Dec11Tellyourlovedones on social media in the run-up to next Thursday.