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Editor's Viewpoint

Organ donation plan must not be rushed

Editor's Viewpoint


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NHS Organ Donor Register card (Philip Toscano/PA)

NHS Organ Donor Register card (Philip Toscano/PA)

NHS Organ Donor Register card (Philip Toscano/PA)

On the face of it, the case for the introduction of a soft opt-out organ donation system in Northern Ireland is compelling. Although something like 47% of the population is on an organ donation register, the demand for organs outweighs supply at any one time.

Currently there are 112 people are awaiting transplants and every one of them is desperately hoping that organs become available before their condition claims their life.

Under the opt-out scheme, everyone would be deemed as a potential donor unless they opted out.

A further safeguard is that even if they made it clear they wished to donate an organ after death, relatives can still veto that bequest.

Health Minister Robin Swann is right to launch a consultation on his proposal.

As our story today illustrates, grateful recipients of organs are fully behind an opt-out scheme.

Evidence from other countries shows it increases the number of donations.

But there are also concerns about such a proposal, as were found during a consultation process on the potential impact of an opt-out donor scheme in the UK.

While some 60% of the public were in favour of the idea, provided that measures were put in place to safeguard the rights of vulnerable people, there was also a vociferous lobby opposed to the introduction of such a system.

The public stressed that any change to the organ donation scheme must be accompanied by a comprehensive information process, so that people can make informed decisions on the way forward.

Clinicians voiced concern about the impact it could have on their care of end-of-life patients and how the trust between them, their patients and the families could be damaged.

When the opt-out scheme was first mooted in Northern Ireland by former UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson in 2016, some senior clinicians opposed the Bill, describing it as unhelpful and saying that the province was not ready for such a move.

The legislation was ultimately rejected by Stormont's health committee.

Whether views have changed in the intervening years will be shown by the public consultation.

This is a hugely important health initiative and it is vital that a wide range of views are made known to the Department of Health, so that a balanced decision can be taken.

People's lives depend on the outcome.

Belfast Telegraph