Northern Ireland news

Brolly says only weeks to save organ donation bill

A bill to introduce an 'opt-out' system for organ donations in the north has been rejected
John Monaghan and Claire Simpson

Former GAA star Joe Brolly last night said there is "just a few weeks and a lot of work" to save legislation on organ donation.

Mr Brolly, who donated a kidney to his friend Shane Finnegan in 2012, said while a bill to introduce an 'opt out' system was confusing in its current form, he still believed it could be saved with some amendments.

DUP and Sinn Féin members of Stormont's health committee voted on Wednesday to reject the private members' bill, which proposed that everyone would be on the organ donation register unless they opt out.

Its proposer, Ulster Unionist assembly member Jo-Anne Dobson, said she was bitterly disappointed.

"Despite the continued public support for change I'm disappointed that the two parties worked and voted together to oppose it," she said.

"They must now explain their actions to the patients and their families waiting on a life-saving heart, lung, kidney or liver."

Health minister Simon Hamilton said yesterday he had listened to the views of transplant doctors.

He said clinicians had clearly told the committee they feared "that the bill that was put forward wouldn't actually increase organ donation in Northern Ireland and it could actually damage organ donation".

"If we have a situation where we have a world-class service the last thing surely any of us want to do is to damage that," he told the BBC.

Liver transplant patient Lucia Quinney (16), from Ballycastle, Co Antrim, said she was pleased she had been given an organ under the present system.

"It means so much to know that a donor, and possibly not even the donor but the donor's family, has made that decision, has given it thought," she said.

"And to know that it was something that they wanted to do, to know that it was a conscious choice that they made, I think it makes it even more special for us. When people talk about the gift of life it really does mean a gift."

Mr Brolly claimed that "Stephen Hawking couldn't have understood the language of the draft bill", but said he still supported an opt-out system.

"We couldn't support this and Sinn Féin and the DUP were right to vote against it," he said.

"We still think that the bill can be saved and we will make serious efforts to do that, but we only have a few weeks before the election campaign starts."

Mr Brolly said the "problem is that the current system is marketed as an individual consent system".

"What we were calling for, lobbied for and worked for was a simple family consent bill," he said.

"In reality that is what happens. At the minute someone has to be there to sign a consent form.

"We have a real generosity in Northern Ireland and that is evident in the three years that we have campaigned, we have become the number one place for live donors in the world."

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