Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Opt-out system is best way forward

There is a constant battle to increase the number of organ donors in Northern Ireland. Around 550,000 people here have signed the donor register, roughly one-third of the population.

But one grim statistic shows that even more are required. Some 200 people are desperately awaiting an organ transplant in the province and, inevitably, some will die without ever being given that life-changing operation.

Ulster Unionist MLA, Jo-Anne Dobson, has introduced a Private Members Bill at Stormont which has the potential to gather more potential donors.

It proposes a so-called soft opt-out system, where people would be regarded as consenting to organ donation unless they opt out of the register.

It is a sensible proposal, one that will be adopted by Wales next year, and which is in common use throughout Europe.

That is why it is puzzling that a DUP MLA, Alastair Ross, is bringing forward another proposal which would ask drivers when they apply for a new licence to state whether they would like to become an organ donor or not. He says he objects to Ms Dobson's proposal on ethical grounds, since it presumes consent. Yet her bill makes it perfectly clear that final consent remains, as ever, with the relatives of the deceased.

They can refuse permission for organs to be taken from their loved ones even if they were on the register.

The presentation of two bills giving different approaches could muddy the waters and waste a glorious chance to increase the number of organ donors in the province. It is a strange intervention by Mr Ross and could be unhelpful. Surely Assembly members can see the value of the opt-out system and rally behind it. They would be doing a great service to people for many years to come by so doing.

Ms Dobson knows the value of organ donation – her son received a life-changing kidney transplant.

He is alive and well today because someone decided to become an organ donor and their family agreed. She makes a compelling case for adoption of her bill.

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