Upper Bann MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has appealed to her fellow Assembly members to support her ‘soft opt-out’ system for organ donations, after a DUP man “tossed a spanner in the works”.
Mrs Dobson has, for over a year, been working on a bill that would deem everyone organ donors, unless they made it clear that they want to opt out. And there would be a final safety net if, upon anyone’s death, that the family objects to the removal of vital organs, to be used for transplant for gravely ill people.
She tabled the Bill in December 2012, and hoped it would become law this spring when brought before the Assembly in the spring - it is in the final drafting stages.
But she is worried that the move could be “destroyed” with a rival bill due to be tabled at the end of January by DUP’s Alistair Ross (East Antrim). He proposes an ‘opt-in’ system via driving licences.
Said Mrs Dobson, “I hope this move is non-political. You’d think there are already enough issues on which we cannot agree at Stormont. I thought that changes to organ donation laws would be one we could all get behind. Indeed, the aim of my bill which is to move Northern Ireland to a soft opt-out system has been publicly supported by the First and deputy First Ministers. Every MLA is fully aware of my intention to bring forward an Organ Donation Bill.
“So I was somewhat baffled to receive a letter from Alistair Ross last Monday offering up his own Private Members Bill on organ donation, without any prior contact or consultation with me and indeed in direct contradiction to his party leader’s public statements on the issue.”
She pointed out that a living reason for opt-out was the case of Armagh man Neil Anderson (in his mid-20s) had been waiting for a kidney for 22 years.
“Neil had the dubious honour of being the UK’s longest waiting kidney patient, and we are hoping and praying that it succeeds. I’m convinced he would not have been waiting so long had opt-out – with a significant increase in organs – been the law of the land.”
Mr Ross said he agreed on many issues with Mrs Dobson but not the new system, which he described as “presumed consent”. He added, “There is one fundamental issue that we disagree on, namely a move towards a system of ‘presumed consent’ for adults,” he said.
He has proposed to amend the Road Traffic legislation. This would have drivers state their preference of becoming a donor or not when applying for a new licence. Mr Ross said he believes this is more “ethically sound”. He insisted there was no political motive.
But Mrs Dobson said this “serves to confuse the issue”.