Belfast Telegraph

Informing can aid reforming

By Alastair Ross

Organ donation is one of the greatest gifts that anyone can give another individual, but most people live their lives without ever thinking about, talking about, or taking a decision about it.

If we are to translate the 84% of people who support organ donation into becoming actual donors we need to address this.

There are two options. Introducing a system of 'opt-out', or 'presumed consent', would see the Assembly effectively take that decision for people, without ever specifically asking for an individual's consent.

My belief is that individuals should take informed decisions about their organs when they die and, therefore, I prefer a method that would present people with a clear decision point and an opportunity to take that decision.

Concerns over consent cannot be ignored. The Public Health Agency report clearly demonstrates that less than 50% of people support 'opt-out' once they understand what the legislation means and this opposition is particularly acute amongst health care professionals working in trauma and closest to potential donor families.

What we don't want is families facing tremendously difficult decisions about their loved ones and not knowing what their wishes are.

'Opt-out' hasn't worked in Sweden, Norway, Brazil, or Chile, for example, and advances in Spain are down to awareness and transplant co-ordinators in hospitals, rather than the piece of legislation passed in 1979 to move to a system of presumed consent, which has never been enacted.

Evidence suggests states with the highest levels of organ donation focus on two things: public awareness and specialised nurses and transplant co-ordinators in hospitals.

I believe that legislation for presumed consent is unnecessary and potentially counterproductive.

Let's, instead, build on the 82% increase in organ donation in Northern Ireland over the past five years by strengthening the 'opt-in' system, working together on a public awareness campaign and encouraging people to discuss the issue with their loved ones.

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