A top DUP politician has voiced his backing for a new policy on organ donations – one campaigned for in Northern Ireland by a leading Ulster Unionist MLA.
Strangford MP Jim Shannon said organ donation was something he felt "passionately about" after his nephew Peter required a kidney transplant.
He urged the Government to consider a change in the law to introduce a system of presumed consent, which he argued would boost the number of organs available for transplantation and reduce the number of people dying while waiting on the list.
However, a colleague in Mr Shannon's own party has attempted to stop the introduction of presumed consent in Northern Ireland.
Ulster Unionist MLA Jo-Anne Dobson had been lobbying for a 'soft opt-out' approach in Northern Ireland through her Private Member's Bill in December 2012.
Under this, people automatically give their consent for donation unless they indicate their objection, although there is a safeguard that families would still have the final say.
DUP MLA Alastair Ross, however, subsequently launched his own Private Member's Bill. He wants an 'opt-in system' via drivers' licences.
But Mr Shannon, who led yesterday's Westminster Hall debate in what is National Transplant Week, disagreed.
Mr Shannon said one-third of families refused to give consent for organs of loved ones to be donated or because they were unaware of their wishes.
He said: "This is one of the reasons why I feel the Government needs to consider legislating on the introduction of a soft presumed consent system wherein families of the deceased can object to donation if the deceased dies without expressly electing whether or not to donated their organs." Mr Shannon backed calls to better educate people on the issue through campaigns in schools, television adverts, or through GP surgeries.
The MP for Strangford also spoke of the importance of families and friends discussing organ donation, and suggested a media campaign through a soap storyline "to make it a subject matter round the dinner table".
The British Medical Association's latest figures, he said, showed the number of people registering to be organ donors in Northern Ireland had reached an "all-time high" of more than 582,000.
But he added much more needed to be done as the UK has one of the lowest rates of numbers on the register in Europe, with 96% of the population supporting the principle of organ donation – but "only 30%" being registered.
He said: "These low numbers are due to the population being unaware and often misinformed about organ donation, how to register, the process involved and just how vital transplants are."
"Three people die each week while waiting for organs. This is three people too many, three families left heartbroken with the loss of loved one who could have been treated if more people were on the list to donate. You can save up to nine lives – the Government I believe needs to encourage as many people as possible to sign the register."
– DUP MP Jim Shannon