Organ donation reform may never become law if Stormont collapses, Robin Swann warns
Proposed organ donation reforms may never become law if the Stormont Assembly collapses, Health Minister Robin Swann has warned.
The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill, which would create a law that all adults become potential donors unless they specifically opt out or are excluded, passed its latest stage at the Assembly today.
Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK where an opt-out system for organ donation is not in place.
But during a debate on the Bill, several MLAs warned that the legislation could be jeopardised if the DUP follows through with its threat to pull down the powersharing institutions in protest against Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol.
Mr Swann, who introduced the legislation, told reporters at Stormont: “I don’t think we can afford that to happen.
“I don’t think we can afford that to happen on a number of pieces of legislation, never mind just on organ donation here in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Swann added: “There’s so much could easily be lost if we don’t keep this place going and actually delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.
“I have a number of pieces of legislation coming forward as health minister that need to get through this house and if they don’t get through by May and there as a hiatus or this place goes into suspension again I can’t see a point of when they actually come back.”
Introducing the Bill in the Assembly chamber, Mr Swann told MLAs: “There have been many challenges and delays in bringing this Bill forward, however the strong public support can leave no doubt that this is the right time to make a real difference to people’s lives in Northern Ireland.
“The Bill will strengthen the current legislative framework around organ donation and will increase the current rate of consent in the small number of cases in which it is clinically possible for organ donation to proceed after a person’s death.
“Doing so will increase the overall number of donors, and ultimately the number of lifesaving organs available for transplantation.”
Mr Swann told MLAs that the consent rate in Wales had risen from 58% in 2015 to 70.7% in 2020 after introducing similar laws.
He said: “This Bill will mean that adults in Northern will be considered potential donors unless they choose to opt-out or are excluded. Around 115 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list, and every year around 10-15 people in Northern Ireland die waiting on an organ transplant.
“This Bill will help to reduce the number of people waiting for a life-saving transplant.”
Alliance Party health spokesperson Paula Bradshaw said nobody should threaten to delay the legislation by collapsing the institutions.
She said: “This is literally life-saving legislation, and now it comes under threat from those who would once again deprive us of the ability to pass such legislation on the basis of narrow sectional interests which should be resolved through open and robust democratic debate.
“Those who have campaigned so long for an ‘opt-out’ system deserve far better than partisan political games.”
DUP MLA Paul Frew told MLAs that he did not agree with the deemed consent principle of the Bill.
He said: “We can all say organ donation is very good, but organ donation legislation can be anything, it can be good, bad or indifferent. Our job is to make sure that the legislation is as best as we can produce.
“Deemed consent is something you cannot amend away. If you are opposed to deemed consent, even if you come with an open mind that principle will always remain.”
Following a vote, the Bill passed its second Assembly stage by 69 votes to six and will now pass to the health committee for further scrutiny.
Mr Swann said he hoped the Bill would be enacted by Spring 2023.