Belfast Telegraph

How political failure and row over party funding drown out progress on reforming organ donation laws

By Jo-Anne Dobson

With the current media focus on the financial donations received by political parties and the 'Deal Or No Deal' failed talks process, recent progress made towards a new organ donation system has been largely drowned out.

It is, indeed, a very sad situation when talks processes become more about politicians and their party positions, red lines and deadlines, than what those politicians are supposed to be achieving for the electorate: the bread and butter issues that lie neglected in the politics of 'he said, she said'.

Reform of our health service is one of those crucial parked issues; however, even to use the work 'parked' suggests that it is secure - far from it. As any of our health professionals will tell you, with no government and no change, the system is going in reverse.

When it comes to health, one of the biggest issues for me is organ donation - it saved my son Mark's life and it's an issue I have been passionate about for many decades, long before politics.

Organ failure affects people from across a very wide range of social, age, gender, educational, cultural, faith and ethnic backgrounds.

While the good news is that donation is on the increase - thanks largely to the hard work of the transplant community - the challenge remains that demand for more organs is even greater.

Two weeks ago, I was absolutely thrilled to hear the Scottish government announce that it will be changing its rules, which will see it become the second devolved region of the United Kingdom, after Wales, to adopt an opt-out, rather than an opt-in, system of organ donation.

Around four years ago, I began piloting our first opt-out Bill through the Stormont corridors. Ultimately, it was defeated by the Executive parties, with just a small section of the Bill making it into law.

Sadly, this was despite overwhelming public support for change right here in Northern Ireland, which the Scottish government has now reinforced.

We now stand as the only devolved region of the United Kingdom not to have a government commitment to reform organ donation laws, reform which is centred on saving lives through the life-giving and life-saving power of organ transplantation.

Throughout my almost six years as an MLA, I had the privilege of meeting and working with so many driven and enthusiastic people who wanted to see and embrace positive change in our laws.

When it came to organ donation, I had the benefit of seeing first-hand how a life can be completely transformed through the selfless gift of life, as my youngest son Mark received a kidney transplant just over eight years ago.

Like countless others who have a personal connection to what we call the organ donation family, I was a campaigner long before I became a politician.

I want to see more lucky ones - just like Mark. That was the driving force behind my Private Member's Bill.

Through an opt-out system, I firmly believe we can achieve an end to the shortage of available organs for transplant, which sees an average of 15 local people die each year while they wait.

Failure to act is simply kicking the can down the road for future generations.

The positive news coming out of Scotland, alongside the Welsh opt-out system in operation since 2015, brings our current position firmly back into focus.

As the local political focus has been on the failed process at Stormont Castle, we must remember that devolved government isn't simply about the politicians who are doing all the talking.

It's about having a passion for achieving positive change for everyone, regardless of their religion, politics, or sexuality.

In Northern Ireland, we have some of the most talented and the most forward-thinking medical professionals in the world who are constrained by a political system locked in deadlock.

Government must be about what it can do, not what it cannot. It must be about people and not politicians.

None of us can know when during our lives we, or our loved ones, may need a transplant. Organ failure doesn't discriminate and neither should our laws when it comes to providing people with the best chance of receiving that life-saving transplant when they need it.

"In their final hours they gave a lifetime". I was so touched by these beautiful words about organ donation, contained in a portrait proudly displayed on the ground floor of Belfast City Hospital. It is a sentiment that encapsulates what thinking and caring about others truly means.

Health transcends all political positions and posturing. Let's care a little more about what it means to look after each other - give hope, not fear.

If I can make one plea, it is that, if you support organ transplantation and are willing to donate your organs after death, please let your loved ones know your wishes.

That simple and short conversation has the power to save up to eight lives.

  • Jo-Anne Dobson is an organ donation campaigner

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