Upper Bann MLA Joanne Dobson’s proposed legislation on organ donation is “total gobbledygook”, according to one of Northern Ireland’s most high-profile living donors.
GAA pundit Joe Brolly, who gave a kidney to a friend and clubmate three years ago, said the Human Transplantation Bill must be simplified.
In evidence to the Stormont health scrutiny committee, Mr Brolly said: “The problem with the bill as it stands is that it is very confusing.
“I think that Stephen Hawking couldn’t understand this bill. I mean I am a lawyer, it’s what I do, it is my daily bread. It is impossible to understand.”
Last year Ulster Unionist Jo-Anne Dobson introduced a Private Member’s Bill calling for the adoption of a “soft opt-out” system whereby people would be presumed donors unless they state otherwise before their deaths.
Under the new model, family members would still have the final say on whether organs would be donated.
Mrs Dobson, whose son Mark received a life-changing kidney transplant, wants to adopt a system similar to the one introduced in Wales.
If legislation is brought forward it must be simple, non-threatening and not divisive, Mr Brolly said. “If it is simple it is easy to publicise,” he added.
“What we have always supported is a simple organ donation act that reflects reality.”
Improving infrastructure and increasing public awareness are also important, it was claimed.
Mr Brolly, who was representing the Opt for Life charity, cautioned against rushing through legislation and said the bill could be easily “saved” by making amendments.
Northern Ireland should have a “simply family consent act” with an opt-out for those who are opposed to organ donation, the committee was told.
“Organ donation is a fragile system and is very difficult to get it right,” said Mr Brolly.
Mrs Dobsoncommented: “The issue of organ donation is one which has been close to my heart on a personal level for over twenty years.
“In proposing to modernise our local laws through my private members bill I have always said that I am open to hearing all opinions to enable us to have the right legislation which can have the greatest chance of saving lives.
“However, many will agree that the issue demands a greater degree of sensitivity than Mr Brolly showed when giving evidence to the Health Committee recently.
“I very much welcome all views brought before the committee by charities, individuals and organisations as together they will help to ensure that we arrive at the right bill – this isn’t my bill, it’s a bill for everyone in Northern Ireland.
“The sad reality is that seventeen local people died last year while waiting on a suitable organ.
“We must work towards a new system which helps to improve the supply of available organs and ultimately saves lives.
“I have always said that the bill must ensure the rights of the family to have the final say and this firmly remains my aim.”