Northern Ireland Government proposes opt-out organ donation

The Northern Ireland Department of Health has proposed introducing an opt-out system for organ donation, where a person is presumed to have consented to donate their organs after death unless they have specifically opted out. Northern Ireland Humanists has welcomed the move, and has called on the public to support the plans.

Moving to an opt-out, rather than opt-in, system of organ donation has been shown to increase the number of organs available for transplant and willingness of the population to donate, saving lives. Northern Ireland is currently the only part of the UK that does not operate under this system or is in the process of introducing it.

The Department stated that its aim in considering this change is to ‘increase the current rate of consent for organ donation to proceed after a person’s death. Doing so will increase the overall number of donors, and ultimately the number of lifesaving organs available for transplantation.’

Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator commented, ‘We are delighted that the Northern Ireland Government has come out in support of an opt-out organ donation system. The evidence is clear that this simple measure will save lives, and this has already led to this change taking place across the rest of the UK. It is time for the same change in Northern Ireland.’

Humanists UK was a driving force behind the move to opt-out systems in England and Wales, with Humanist Society Scotland backing similar proposals in Scotland. It was part of NHS England’s advisory group on the new law. Humanists UK also responded to consultations in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and gave oral evidence to the Welsh Assembly Committee inquiry into presumed consent for organ donation, helping usher in the change in law in Wales in 2015.

Humanists do not believe that respect for the dead constitutes a reason to object to allowing a deceased person’s organs being used to help others, except when the deceased has expressed a contrary wish.


For further comment or information, please contact Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator Boyd Sleator at or phone 07918 975795.

Opt-out systems became law in Wales in 2015, Jersey in 2019, and England earlier this year, and will be law in Scotland from 2021. Guernsey and the Isle of Man also have legislation that is expected to change the law in the near future. A bill is also under consideration in the Republic of Ireland.

Read about the humanist perspective on organ donation.

Read more about our campaign work on organ donation.

Watch our video with Jamie Theakston raising awareness about organ donation.

Northern Ireland Humanists is part of Humanists UK, working with the Humanist Association of Ireland. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by 100,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.