Organ donation gives the gift of life to others. If you join the NHS Organ Donor Register and talk to your family about your decision, you could help save or improve the lives of up to nine people.
Changes to the law
The current organ donation law in Northern Ireland is to opt in to organ and tissue donation.
To help save more lives, the law around organ donation will change to an opt-out system on 1 June 2023.
The new law will be known as Dáithí’s Law in recognition of young Dáithí Mac Gabhann who has been on the waiting list for a heart transplant since 2018.
Dáithí’s Law will mean, if organ donation is a possibility after you die, it will be considered that you agree to being an organ donor unless you have registered a decision not to donate, or are in an excluded group.
Excluded groups include:
- those under the age of 18
- people who lack the mental capacity to understand the change in law
- visitors to Northern Ireland
- temporary residents
If you do not wish to become an organ donor then you will need to opt out on the NHS organ donor register.
Organ donation is a personal decision and you will still have a choice if you wish to donate or not.
When the law changes, families will continue to be consulted before organ donation would go ahead, so it's very important to talk to loved ones about your decision, so they will know what you would have wanted.
You can also continue to sign the NHS organ donor register even after Dáithí’s Law comes into effect.
Many people in Northern Ireland are waiting for an organ transplant and sadly around 10 to 15 people die each year while on the waiting list.
If you have decided to add your name to the NHS organ donor register, there are a number of ways you can sign up, including:
- register online
- telephone: 0300 123 23 23
If you do not want to be an organ donor, you can register that choice on the NHS organ donor register.
You can also register details of a representative or representatives if you want someone to make the decision for you after death.
Children aged 14 and over in Northern Ireland can sign the NHS register and parents/ guardians can register their children before the age of 14 if it is something the child has expressed a wish to do.
Talk about your decision
Whatever you decide, it is very important to talk to your family or those important to you about your organ donation decision.
Sharing your decision prepares those closest to you in case anything should happen.
Choosing to become an organ donor is entirely your decision, but it does affect your family.
After your death, your family will be consulted and any decision they make will be respected.
When families or friends know the decision of their loved ones it can make the situation less stressful and can give them the confidence to fulfil your wish of being an organ donor or not.
Only around half of families agree to organ donation going ahead if they do not know their loved ones’ wishes, however this rises to nine out of 10 when families have had a conversation.
Find out more at the following link:
People who can donate an organ
Being of an older age or having a medical condition will not automatically stop you from being an organ donor.
The decision about whether some or all of your organs or tissues are suitable for transplant is made by the transplant team at the time of your death.
The important thing is that you are registered and have spoken to your family about your wishes.
For children, consent would be sought from their parent or the person in the closest qualifying relationship to them at the time of their death.
Which organs and tissue you can donate
Advances in transplant medicine mean more patients can now be saved, or their quality of life improved through organ donation.
When you sign the NHS donor register, you can choose which organs you wish to donate.
The organs and tissue which can be donated are:
- heart – for conditions such as heart disease, sometimes medicine or conventional surgeries no longer work and a transplant can be the only option
- lungs – many patients needing a transplant have chronic infection of the lungs from cystic fibrosis and other conditions such as bronchiectasis
- kidney – when kidneys fail, people suffer tiredness, swelling, breathlessness, anaemia, anxiety and nausea, a kidney transplant frees patients from the burden of dialysis
- liver – transplantation is usually done either to treat the symptoms of a disease such as primary biliary cirrhosis, or to save the life of a patient dying from liver failure
- pancreas – a pancreas transplant is the only treatment which restores insulin independence for people with Type 1 diabetes and can prevent, or slow, diabetic complications like blindness or kidney failure
- small bowel – small bowel transplantation is a treatment for both adults and children with intestinal failure, helping them to avoid life-threatening infections and other complications
- tissue – this can include heart valves and parts of the eye, such as the corneas and sclera, and can save the lives of children born with malformed hearts or help to restore sight for people with eye disease or injuries
It is possible to be a living donor.
The most common type is kidney donation, when one kidney is removed from a healthy individual and transplanted into someone else, often a relative.
In recent years, it has also become possible to donate part of a liver.
Living donation is obviously a major decision and every person who comes forward undergoes a thorough assessment.
All live donors and recipients are reviewed by an independent assessor, who is responsible for making sure there is no pressure or coercion involved and that all parties understand the risk of complications.
The NHS organ donor register is only for those who wish to donate after death.
To be a living donor, you must contact a transplant centre directly.
What happens after donation
Families are given the opportunity to spend time with their loved one after the operation if they wish, and this is facilitated by the specialist nurse.
Arrangements for viewing the body after donation are the same as after any death.
Organs and tissue are always removed with the greatest of care and respect. The patient’s wounds are closed and dressed the same as after any other operation.
The organ donation operation is performed as soon as possible after death. To allow the process to be organised and successful donation to take place, it can cause a short delay to funeral arrangements, possibly up to 24 hours.
After this, however, funeral arrangements can be made as normal, including the option to have an open coffin.