Belfast Telegraph

Organ donation too important to be used as a political football, says mother of swine flu girl who died after liver transplant

BY VICTORIA O'HARA

A woman whose daughter died after her liver failed says that steps to improve organ donation in Northern Ireland are being turned into a "political football".

Lorraine Ritchie, from south Belfast, believes countless lives could be saved if Northern Ireland adopted an "opt-out" organ donation system.

Her only daughter Corrina (21) died in Barcelona in 2009 when her liver failed after contracting swine flu.

To save her life she received a liver transplant within three days – because Spain has an 'opt-out' for organ donation. Everyone is regarded to have given consent to be an organ donor after death unless they state otherwise and opt out.

Sadly, she died of complications from pneumonia and swine flu.

The 49-year-old, now passionately involved in the Northern Ireland Transplant Association, said a second Bill proposed by DUP MLA Alastair Ross later this month had polarised the situation. Mr Ross is 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 proposals by UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson on ethical grounds. Ms Dobson has lobbied for more than a year for a new law to adopt a soft opt-out system.

Mr Ross said he could not support Ms Dobson's Bill on ethical grounds.

But Lorraine said politics should not be overshadowing such an important issue.

"This should not be a competition about who will bring in legislation first, this is about people," she said.

"There are people dying waiting for organs in Northern Ireland. It is too important an issue to be bogged down by politics."

She said Corrina fell ill during a holiday in Ibiza with friends. When she got the call that Corrina had been taken to hospital she did not realise the seriousness of the situation.

Corrina was flown by air ambulance to hospital in Barcelona, where she underwent the transplant, but did not survive.

Lorraine said the experience of the opt-out system in Spain, when a suitable donor liver was found for her daughter within days, had convinced her of the need for change here.

"She received an organ within three days of falling ill. It was just so unfortunate that she then contracted swine flu and her body just couldn't cope," she said.

"They had to suppress the drugs for the organs because of the swine flu and it was just too much and Corrina couldn't fight it.

"We had to fly home after all that. It was just a terrible time.

"But I saw at first-hand how well the organ donor system works and stops people from having to wait years for a transplant – or even losing their life.

"I'm just so angry that this has appeared to become some sort of competition between the parties."

Lorraine acknowledges that some people had concerns about the opt-out system but said education was vital.

"Education about organ donation is so important for people to realise what this will mean."

She added: "Nobody wants to talk about dying, no one wants to think about it, I understand that, but I think they would be horrified if they knew how many people could live.

"My motto is to live life then give life. I believe this opt-out system should go ahead – and the political bickering stays out of it."

STORY SO FAR

In December 2012, UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson tabled a Private Member's Bill at the Assembly to change the existing Organ Donation Laws in Northern Ireland. She is lobbying for an 'opt-out' system to be adopted. This week DUP MLA Alastair Ross said he was launching his own Private Member's Bill on organ donation. He wanted an 'opt-in system' via drivers' licences.

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