Northern Ireland

PLATFORM: Giving the gift of life through organ donation

Fearghal McKinney, head of the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland, at Stormont with Dáithí Mac Gabhann and his parents Máirtín and Seph
Fearghal McKinney, head of the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland, at Stormont with Dáithí Mac Gabhann and his parents Máirtín and Seph

Today is a landmark day for all those waiting on the gift of life in Northern Ireland as Dáithí’s Law comes into effect.

It is a fitting honour that the new soft opt-out organ donation law is named after six-year-old west Belfast boy Dáithí Mac Gabhann.

The Mac Gabhann family – Máirtín, Seph, Cairbre and, of course, Dáithí himself – and their wider family and supporters have fought a long and hard campaign to get us to where we are today.

We in the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland have been proud to stand with them on their journey.

We’ve watched as they’ve gone through the highs and lows of the campaign – and I’ve been on the receiving end of more than a few punches from Dáithí along the way. And the campaign has certainly punched above its weight.

MLAs, ministers, MPs and even the prime minister have all felt the force of the family’s tireless determination to change the law and bring hope to so many.

After many false dawns and disappointing days, we were proud and honoured to sit with the Mac Gabhann family in the public gallery at Westminster when history was made and the new organ donation legislation was passed.

The campaign has brought organ donation to the fore of public consciousness like never before. People who were not aware of organ donation or had never considered it are now making the choice to register to become organ donors.

Experience from elsewhere, where similar legislation has been brought in, shows that it raises awareness of organ donation and its importance.

For many, the issue of organ donation only arises in the event of a tragic death of a loved one. This is understandably a traumatic and emotional time and the idea of donating organs is often far from people’s minds.

That is why it is vitally important to have the conversation about organ donation with your family and loved ones so they know your choices. Families will still be consulted after this historic law change so it’s crucial to make your loved ones aware if you want to give the gift of life to someone else.

It could be one of the most important conversations you ever have and could transform the lives of others immeasurably.

Families like the Mac Gabhanns will celebrate this landmark change in the law but legislation in itself will not end the wait.

Giving someone the gift of life through organ donation is the greatest gift you can give.

If you choose to give this most precious gift, you could save the life of not just one person, but several.

Today is about hope for all those waiting on the gift of life.

Help turn that hope into reality by choosing to become an organ donor.

:: Fearghal McKinney is head of the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland