Joe’s ‘Good Samaritan Act’

Derry all-Ireland winner Joe Brolly (left), 42, who donated a kidney to Belfast PR executive and fellow GAA enthusiast Shane Finnegan (right). T
Derry all-Ireland winner Joe Brolly (left), 42, who donated a kidney to Belfast PR executive and fellow GAA enthusiast Shane Finnegan (right). T

All Ireland winning GAA footballer, Joe Brolly has vowed “he will not stop” until a new organ-donor law is introduced in Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The Dungiven man is working on draft legislation for a new law so that everyone is an organ donor unless they specifically opt not to be, following his remarkable act of altruism last year when he donated one of his kidneys to his friend Shane Finnegan. Sadly, complications were discovered nine days after the major operation and the kidney had to be removed.

Since then, the 43-year-old barrister has worked tirelessly on a proposal for a ‘Good Samaritan Act’. The dad-of-five says he won’t quit until the Act 
is implemented.

“I have been sent countless messages and letters and had many phone calls by those waiting on a transplant, “ Joe told the ‘Journal’. “I have assured them I will not stop.”

The briefing document for the proposed Act states all the main studies show that ‘opt out’ countries have much higher donation rates than opt in; that the top 10 organ donor rate countries in the world all have an ‘opt out’ system and that the UK and N. Ireland organ donation rate is very low in comparison with the ‘opt out’ societies.

“Now you must ‘opt in’, via filling out the online register,” says Joe. “Only around 25 per cent of the population are signed up. Even then, in practice, the relatives have the final say.”

The document highlights Spain, the “world leader in organ donation rates”, which has a ‘soft opt out system’.

The document also states: “In the UK as a whole, there is significant debate about moving to an ‘opt out’ system” and says “the British Medical Association unequivocally supports a move to an ‘Opt Out’ system”.

Overall, the proposal to move to a ‘soft opt out’ system means individuals can “object to donation by communicating their wishes to their next-of-kin, or by registering their refusal on the 
‘Online Register’.

“We already have an online register to opt in, which could relatively easily be switched to opt out, though the specifics of this can be worked out in due course. It would probably be beneficial to maintain a dual register,” says Joe.

“The change in law would be characterised as a reflection of the overwhelming view of our society that organ donation is a good thing. Yet the opt out would not be strictly enforced, always leaving loved ones with the final say.”

Joe says all political party leaders have the document, and revealed both the SDLP and the Ulster Unionist Party are keen to bring a Private Members Bill. Joe also revealed he had met the Joint First Ministers, and all are favourable.

“I would prefer this to take the Executive route rather than Private Members Bill, which is a longer process,” said Joe. “Also, any privateering (the parties see the potential for the Act and the likely kudos for whoever is associated with it) could cause division and may compromise the cause.”

He added: “I want a cross party approach where no one and everyone owns the Act.”