Derry GAA champion Joe Brolly says once the law regarding how people donate organs in Northern Ireland is changed, he will be taking his life-saving campaign to the Republic.
The North’s First Minister and deputy First Minister have given their support to proposals that could see a dramatic change, as outlined in proposals in the Dungiven man’s ‘Good Samaritan Act’.
Currently, anyone who wants to become an organ donor when they die must have registered in advance. However, since donating a kidney to his friend Shane Finnegan last year, Joe Brolly has been campaigning to get the law changed.
Under the new proposals people would be presumed to have given consent for their organs to be donated upon their death, unless they have opted out.
Health Minister Edwin Poots officially put forward the proposals for the opt-out campaign last Tuesday. Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness gave their backing to the proposals during a visit to Belfast City Hospital last week, where they toured the Regional Nephrology and Transplant Service with Joe Brolly. The minister now wants feedback on the proposal.
“The Act is a virtual certainty now all the political parties have fully endorsed the soft opt-out proposal,” dad-of-five Joe told the ‘Journal’. “I have spoken with all the leaders. The transplant clinicians are in favour. The consultation appears to be a formality, unless something wholly unforeseen arises.”
The Dungiven man won praise from thousands after his organ donation last year, which devastatingly was unsuccessful for the recipient after medical complications.
However, the barrister and ‘Derry Journal’ columnist said it will mean that donation will become the norm, rather than the exception.
“This is what has happened in all the soft opt-out countries. When the law changes it will change our mindset. Donation will no longer be seen as unusual or extreme. Citizens assume our political leaders (political, medical, religious) have decided it is the right thing to do. This will take the pressure off families at the moment of distress. They will expect to be asked to donate and they will permit donation. This is the experience on soft opt-out countries where refusal rates are 10-15%, in comparison to opt-in societies, where the rate of refusal is 50-60%. In Northern Ireland the refusal rate is currently 50%.”
Under the proposed system, the family will always be asked for final consent, said Joe, who explained, as it stands, there are no downsides to it.
“The only real objection would be if hard opt-out, as practised in Austria, were on the table,” he explained. “This is where the family has no say, so if a person has not opted out during their lifetime their organs are taken. This is not going to be the law here. The soft opt-out proposal makes it impossible for objectors to take a principled stance.”
Joe believes once people see the difference the legislation makes to organ donation, backed up by statistics, donation will be seen as “the norm”.
“The announcement has been brilliant for the morale of people awaiting transplant and their families,” he said. “They no longer feel ignored.”
The fact the joint first ministers and the Health Minister visited the transplant unit and dialysis ward personally was in itself “a boost”, said Joe.
“Crucially, more organs means fewer wasted lives,” said Joe. “Many of the people invited to the formal announcement were people alive and kicking because of transplants. Also, people on the waiting list in the South (where the rate of donation increased last year), are excited about the prospects for the campaign down there. That is my next target.”