News & Insights: Healthcare

Organ Donation Law for Northern Ireland to Progress

23 February 2023

Dáithí’s Law will mean adults in Northern Ireland automatically become potential organ donors after their death unless they explicitly say they wish not to be. It is being implemented to increase organ donation rates in the region.

The new legislation is named after Dáithí Mac Gabhann from Belfast. Dáithí was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, meaning the left side of his heart did not form correctly. The six-year-old has been on the list to get a heart transplant for about five years, with his family campaigning for a change in organ donation laws since 2018.

Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK where an opt-out organ donation system is not in place.

However, a change in Northern Ireland organ donation laws, enforcing a new opt-out organ donation system is due to progress this week, after a last-minute intervention by the UK government.

The opt-out organ donation system was passed by MLAs last year, but the secondary legislation required to implement it cannot currently be approved in the Assembly due to the current political stalemate.

In a recent development, the UK Government has decided to instead take Dáithí’s Law through Westminster to ensure the new opt-out system is implemented.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he would table an amendment to scheduled legislation going through Parliament that would incorporate the organ law. Mr Heaton-Harris announced today, “In recognition of just how important this issue is, I have decided to bring forward an amendment to the Executive Formation Bill which will allow for the overdue legislation to be made by the NI Department of Health and see this change to the law become a reality.”

The bill could complete all of its stages in Parliament by 6 March, however Mr Heaton-Harris has reiterated that if the amendment is selected, the UK Government’s intervention here is exceptional.

There would then be a lead-in time of three months before the opt-out system could effectively begin in Northern Ireland, meaning it could be in place by the start of summer.

The debate will be brought before the Commons on Wednesday, the outcome of which will be a significant move in Northern Ireland healthcare legislation.

Lucy McLernon

O’Reilly Stewart Healthcare


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