Although almost everyone would accept an organ if they needed one, and with 93% of people in Northern Ireland supporting organ donation, just 49% of the population of Northern Ireland are registered organ donors.
At present, around 115 people in Northern Ireland are on the transplant waiting list and each year 10-15 people die waiting for an organ.
It may seem like a lot of people are already on the register, so why do we still have a shortage of organs? Only a small percentage of those who’ve expressed a wish to be a donor will die in the right circumstances for donation to be possible. This makes it crucial for more people to sign the register or talk about their wishes to a family member or friend.
Currently in Northern Ireland there is an ‘opt-in’ framework for consent for organ donation. This means that donation will only ever proceed if a person had given their express consent for organ donation, usually by signing on to the NHS Organ Donor Register and / or the family supports the donation proceeding. In the absence of an Organ Donor Registration or the family are unaware if the patient wanted to be a donor, the family are asked to make a decision on behalf of the patient.
An encouraging public consultation which ran from December 2020 to February 2021 on the introduction of a 'soft opt-out' system received nearly 2,000 responses.
The views expressed in the consultation will informa the development of a draft Bill for consideration by the Northern Ireland Assembly, in order to enshrine the proposed changes in law.
The soft opt-out system will mean that instead of requesting that everyone who supports organ donation ‘opts-in’ and records their decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register, it is considered that everyone would be willing to donate their organs unless they have formally opted-out on the NHS Organ Donor Register; expressed an objection that they do not want to be a donor after their death, or are in one of the excluded groups.
Under opt-out legislation, it is proposed that the family would continue to be consulted about donation. This is for two important reasons. First, to determine the last known decision of their loved one (which may be different to a decision recorded on the NHS Organ Donor Register). Second, in cases where there was a known decision to donate, the family need to provide advice about past health and lifestyle (e.g. trips abroad, recent illness etc), to help determine whether organs would be safe to transplant.
The decision will always remain with you, the individual, and your family. Whatever you decide, please let your family know. This will help them to support your decision at a difficult time.
If you wish to sign the NHS Organ Donor Register, you can do so here. Alternatively you can choose to register a decision not to donate or change your current decision on the NHS Organ Donor Register.
No matter what system is in place, however, your family or the person closest to you will always be consulted after your death. It’s important to talk to them about your wishes so they know what to do.