Northern Ireland

Organ donation: Transplant surgeons warn over donor law change

A surgeon performing an operation Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Transplant surgeons wrote to the health minister to outline concerns over a potential law change on organ donation

Senior surgeons have warned that attempts to introduce a system where people are automatically placed on the organ donor register could reduce public willingness to donate.

The second stage of the Human Transplantation Bill was passed in the Northern Ireland Assembly on Monday.

It would introduce a so-called soft "opt-out" system.

But Health Minister Simon Hamilton said transplant surgeons had written to him urging caution about any law change.

Awareness

The proposed legislation would mean consent to take organs would be presumed unless someone had taken action to remove themselves from the register.

Additional safeguards would also mean that a "qualifying person", a friend or relative, for example, would have to affirm that the deceased person would not have objected.

The bill will now be referred to the assembly's health committee, and will face several more stages before it could become law.

Surgeons said that in countries where opt-out was enforced, higher organ donation rates were down to public awareness rather than legislation.

In their letter, Belfast Health Trust surgeons said that per head of population the number of living kidney donors in Northern Ireland was more than twice the UK average.

Campaigns

They said that was down to the generosity of people in Northern Ireland and the public attitude towards transplantation.

"While fully supportive of the principle of increasing the number of deceased donor organs available to provide life-saving transplantation, we are cautious about any change which, although well-meaning, may potentially have a detrimental impact on the public's willingness to donate," they wrote.

The surgeons suggested waiting to see the impact of recent promotion campaigns and changes to legislation in other devolved regions.

"Deferring any change would allow firstly for re-evaluation of the impact of the Public Health Agency's public education campaign, and secondly assessment of the impact of a similar change made by the Welsh assembly which will take effect on 1 December 2015."

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