Organ donation: Westminster approves Dáith's Law

Dáith MacGabhann and Seph, his mother

Following a last-minute intervention by the UK government, new organ donation laws for Northern Ireland will advance this week, BBC News NI has learned.

The political impasse at Stormont delayed the passage of Dáith's Law, which was named for a young boy who required a heart transplant.

However, a change will be made to a Westminster bill in the upcoming days to guarantee the implementation of the new opt-out system.

It was "an emotional day," according to Dáith Mac Gabhann's father Máirtn.

The family had been pleading with Westminster to intervene, as had Northern Ireland's politicians.

According to Mr. Mac Gabhann, his family will travel to London on Wednesday to watch the bill debate.

He expressed his approval of the government's choice and noted that he had discussed it with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on Sunday night.

After everything we have experienced over the past few weeks, it is a very emotional day for our family, he said.

"We feel as though we had to once more move mountains to accomplish this, and we are extremely proud of Dáith. ".

The only region of the UK without an opt-out system for organ donation is Northern Ireland.

The Stormont assembly first heard Dáith's Law in 2021, and it was approved in its final form in February of that same year.

It would imply that, unless they specifically stated otherwise, every adult in Northern Ireland would be regarded as a potential organ donor after their passing.

The need for additional legislation to define which organs and tissues were covered by the opt-out system, however, was revealed last month.

Learn more about Dáith's Law and the reasons for its postponement.

The government's intervention, according to Mr. Heaton-Harris, is an "exceptional" case and is being made "in recognition of just how important this issue is.".

He asserted that at Stormont, such legislative decisions "should be being taken by locally-elected decision-makers.".

He had previously stated that it would take too long to address the matter in Parliament and insisted that the Northern Ireland Assembly should continue to be in charge of it.

However, the DUP's boycott of the power-sharing institutions in protest of the Northern Ireland Protocol, a set of post-Brexit trade regulations, prevented the legislation from being passed at Stormont.

The DUP, the SDLP, and the Alliance Party were attempting to push Dáith's Law through Westminster since it was unable to move forward at Stormont.

The government's Executive Formation Bill, which would delay the need for a new assembly election if a Stormont executive cannot be formed, was the subject of a DUP amendment that was supported by the other parties.

Dáithí Mac Gabhann sits in his wheelchair, holding a hot water bottle as his parents Máirtín and Seph look on
Máirtn Mac Gabhann (left) is pleased with his family's effort to change the Northern Ireland law governing organ donation.

The subject matter, or scope, of the bill is extremely limited, so it is unlikely that it would be accepted by the Commons Speaker's office when the bill is discussed by MPs on Wednesday.

Now that the amendment to the bill is being introduced in the government's name, it is clear that this is a significant step that will likely have the Speaker's support.

Government amendments are generally accepted by the Speaker's office, unlike amendments introduced by opposition MPs.

According to Mr. Mac Gabhann, his family will fly to London on Wednesday to watch the bill debate.

By 6 March, the bill may have gone through every stage of the legislative process.

The opt-out system could then be implemented in Northern Ireland after a lead-in period of three months, which would put it in place by the start of the summer.

The Department of Health in Stormont had originally anticipated starting in the spring of 2023.

BBC News NI has requested more information about the amendment from the Northern Ireland Office.

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