- 90% of respondents to a public consultation on changing the organ donation system of consent said they currently support organ donation and would continue to do so.
- However, public consultations are not necessarily representative of public opinion – instead, responses reflect the views of those who engage with the consultation.
- We could find no evidence to clearly confirm – or refute – this claim. Based on the available evidence, it is unsubstantiated.
On 14 February, Sinn Féin Vice President, Michelle O’Neill stated:
“Over 130 people are waiting for an organ. Ninety per cent of people in the North support organ donation, and every party in the Chamber supports that law”
Ms O’Neill was speaking as the Stormont Assembly was recalled in an effort to pass a new law on organ donation in Northern Ireland.
There is no strong evidence to substantiate this claim. Although almost 90% of responses to a public consultation on this issue indicated support for organ donation, public consultations are not necessarily reflective of public opinion.
The Organ and Tissue (Deemed Consent) Bill – known as ‘Dáithí’s Law’ – was inspired by six-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann, who is currently awaiting a heart transplant. Dáithí’s Law was introduced in the Assembly in 2021 and passed its final stage in February 2022.
The law would mean everyone in Northern Ireland would be considered as a potential organ donor after their death unless they specifically stated otherwise, with some exceptions.
Those exceptions include: those under the age of 18, people who lack the mental capacity to understand the change in law, visitors to Northern Ireland, and temporary residents.
Where does the 90% figure come from?
Current legislation means that individuals have to “opt in” to organ and tissue donation by joining the NHS Organ Donor Register and sharing the decision with family. The new proposals would mean all adults in Northern Ireland would be considered as a potential organ donor after their death, unless they specifically stated otherwise or “opted out”.
A public consultation on changing the system of consent for organ donation in Northern Ireland from “opt-in” to “opt-out” was announced by the then Minister of Health, Robin Swann MLA on 11 December 2020. The consultation ran until 19 February 2021.
Question 9 of the consultation asked:
“Which of the following statements best summarises how the introduction of opt-out legislation would influence your support for donation of a loved one’s organs and/ or tissues?”
The report on the consultation indicated that there were 1885 responses to this question. Of these, 1706 – or 89.99% – selected the option: “I currently support organ donation and would continue to do so”.
This does not necessarily mean that 90% of the public supports organ donation. Public consultations are designed to gather the views of members of the public, but not necessarily in a way that reflects public opinion in general – unlike, for example, weighted polling that use representative samples. In some cases, public consultations in fact deliberately target specific, relevant groups to gather their views in particular.
The Public Health Agency conducted a survey in 2020 which found that 62% of people in NI supported a change to this system.
A spokesperson for British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland confirmed to FactCheckNI that they commissioned YouGov to conduct a poll on their behalf for Organ Donation Week 2019. This sought to gauge public opinion on organ transplantation, and found that almost seven in 10 people (69%) in Northern Ireland want to change the law to implement an opt-out system of consent.
Ms O’Neill may or may not be correct to say that 90% of the Northern Irish public supports organ donation, but her claim is not backed up by evidence because public consultations are not necessarily representative of public opinion.
FactCheckNI could find no other evidence to either support or contradict this claim.
FactCheckNI contacted Sinn Féin to inquire to what the source of the statistic Ms O’Neill was referring to, but did not receive a response.
For all these reasons, based on the available evidence this claim is unsubstantiated.