Published Wednesday, 16 October 2013
The Public Health Agency (PHA) has revealed its findings on public attitudes towards organ donation and transplantation.
The number of people on the NI organ donor register (ODR) remains low and the PHA said this could be due to a high level of misunderstanding about organ donation.
The report also found that 78% of respondents said they believed their wishes should be discussed with loved ones, yet only 38% said they have actually done this.
Dr Eddie Rooney, Chief Executive of the PHA and Chair of the Northern Ireland Committee for Organ Donation and Transplantation, said: "Organ donation really is the gift of life. The generosity of donors and their families enhances or saves the lives of recipients across Northern Ireland.
"Despite many advances and awareness-raising activities by various organisations in recent years on the issue of organ donation, still only 31% of the population in Northern Ireland are on the NHS Organ Donor Register (ODR).
In Northern Ireland almost 200 people are currently waiting for a transplant and sadly the chance will come too late for many.
Dr Eddie Rooney, PHA
One of those lucky enough to receive an organ donation was Paula McGibbon, who had a heart transplant recently.
After living in America, it was when she returned home to Belfast that she was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 2008.
She said when she became ill, "it just got so bad I didn't want to even leave the house".
When Paula got her new heart, at first she thought she had been given one that was too large because it felt so powerful.
"I could feel this heart, because my heart, I never felt it before," she said. "It just felt like boom, boom, boom! What have they done?"
Paula sees organ donation as the most precious gift, she said: "To me, if I had a family member that died, and I knew that they were going to transform so many people's lives it would just be a huge tribute to them."
The PHA research was carried out as part of a campaign to enhance awareness and understanding of organ donation to encourage everyone to sign the ODR and to tell their loved ones their wishes.
Dr Rooney added: "The aim will be to encourage a shift in behaviour that will enable Northern Ireland to match world- class performance in organ donation and transplantation, resulting in a greater number of people's lives being improved and saved."
The research also found that just over half (56%) of respondents were in support of changing the system to a soft opt-out or presumed consent system - although only 29% had been aware of the current debate around organ donation.
Out of the 18% who were against the change, just over half said this was because they felt it would remove choice or take control away from them.
Ulster Unionist MLA, Jo-Anne Dobson said she was heartened by the findings.
"I'm really looking forward to continuing to work alongside the Public Health Agency as my Bill progresses through Stormont," she said.
"It is crucial that we find a way to bridge the gap between 90% support from the public for Organ Donation and only 30% signing up to current Organ Donor Register.
"That's why I believe my Bill, which would move Northern Ireland down the same route as Wales, presents the best solution to save local lives. In Northern Ireland, on average, fifteen people die every year waiting on an organ transplant."
Ms Dobson said she will present findings of her consultation to the Stormont Health Committee next week.
© UTV News