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Editorial: Politicians have duty to help save lives

THERE will have been huge relief among organ donation campaigners after a bill creating a new 'opt-out' system took another important step towards becoming law.

The Organ and Tissue Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill will ensure that permission for organ donation will be assumed after death, unless people have specifically opted out or relatives object on their behalf.

Supporters believe it will increase donation rates, granting more people the precious gift of life.

It has taken a long time to reach this point, with legislation having been rejected in a previous form in 2016 and been delayed more recently by the DUP.

Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK where an opt-out system is not in place, with a bill also planned in the Republic.

All-Ireland winning footballer Joe Brolly is among those who has campaigned for a change in the law, after donating a kidney himself to a fellow GAA member in 2012.

He spoke powerfully in this paper yesterday about how many people are alive thanks to transplants, with hundreds of sports clubs wearing the 'Opt for Life' logo to encourage conversations around consent.

Tireless campaigning by the family of four-year-old Dáithí MacGabhann, who has been waiting three years for a new heart, has also played a key role in bringing the current legislation to the assembly floor.

But having safely passed its second stage yesterday, it now faces a race against time.

Although assembly elections are not due until next May, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has threatened to bring down Stormont within weeks unless unrealistic demands over the Northern Ireland Protocol are met.

Health minister Robin Swann has said around 115 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list, and every year around 10-15 die before receiving a transplant.

Dáithí's father Máirtín yesterday pleaded with politicians to keep the institutions up and running.

"We have come so far and gathered so much support politically and it would be an absolute travesty if the likes of soft opt-out organ donation was not to come into law because of the collapse of Stormont," he said.

Politics at its most basic level is about improving people's lives. In this case, politicians can actually save lives by putting the public's needs before their own.

If Stormont shows itself unable to legislate on such an important and politically uncontroversial subject, then people will rightly question the value of the devolved parliament itself.

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