Local MLA Jo-Anne Dobson has met with Luc Colenbie, the highly acclaimed co-ordinator of Belgium’s transplant strategy, ahead of bringing a Bill before the NI Assembly regarding organ donation.
The eminent European transplant co-ordinator endorsed Dobson’s organ donation campaign in Northern Ireland after productive discussions at the Belgian Health Ministry in Brussels over recent days.
Mrs Dobson said: “It was wonderful to meet a man who has dedicated his life to organ donation and saving lives.
“We may speak a different language, but those on the transplant waiting list in Belgium go through the same harrowing experience as those on our waiting lists here in Northern Ireland.
“However, with one important exception. Patients in Belgium are more likely to receive a life-saving transplant sooner. And it’s all down to their opt-out organ donation system and a world leading education programme which means that fewer people die waiting on a transplant,”
Mr Colenbie, in a comment, said: “Switching to an opt-out system back in 1986 generated a positive change in the public’s perception of organ donation.
“In Belgium it is now considered the norm to help save lives after another person dies.
“We are also pleased through our education programmes and public awareness that only a tiny minority, 1.7 per cent, of our 11 million people in Belgium have opted out of the register.
“I support what Jo-Anne is doing because when we made the move in 1986 our donation rates for kidneys alone rose by 86 per cent. If it can save Belgian lives, it can save lives in Northern Ireland.”
The UUP MLA added: “Travelling to Belgium to meet the man who makes it all possible was a very meaningful experience. Luc Colenbie is a very modest, caring transplant expert and co-ordinator.
“He spoke with me about his real passion and life-long commitment to saving lives became clear.
“I explained how I became a supporter of organ donation through my son Mark, who had kidney problems from he was five weeks.
“I told Mr Colenbie how Mark is now six years post transplant and at 21 is enjoying a quality of life we never dreamed would be possible but for the generous gift he received from someone who we will never know.”
Jo-Anne Dobson said Belgium has been operating an opt-out system since 1986, where with a few exceptions, everyone is on the donation register.
“Crucially, family consent will always be sought and this is something which will be a major part of my Bill which I plan to bring before the Northern Ireland Assembly in the coming weeks.”