Whatever you say say something

In the 70s, Seamus Heaney, a great poet from the North of Ireland, summed up people’s fears of saying the wrong thing in the “Northern Irish situation” in his poem “Whatever you say, say nothing.”

Today is N Ireland’s Organ Donation Discussion Day so maybe we’ll be forgiven for twisting it – “Whatever you say, say something…”

Here’s the why (including some words pinched from Lucia’s earlier blogs…always worth a read…)

Today, Robin Swann, the N Ireland Health Minister, has launched a public consultation on Soft Opt-out Organ Donation.  (Thank you, Minister – all change starts with a conversation…)

What does it mean?


There are two possible systems that the politicians are trying to decide between, for how people are put onto the Organ Donor Register. The first – the one we currently use – is the Opt-In system. This means that each person decides whether they want to be an organ donor, and then they go and sign the register (or don’t). Our families will always make the final decision and can even overturn our wishes if they choose to – but if we’ve signed the register at least there is evidence to show them that we did want to donate.

The second system – which many people think we should switch to – is the Opt-Out system. This means that everyone is automatically on the Organ Donor Register unless they consciously decide to opt out and register that choice. (Even in the Opt-Out system you can still sign the Register and make your commitment personal.)   It is actually called the ‘Soft Opt-Out’ system, because the families will still make the final decision about donating their loved one’s organs. Everyone still has a choice of whether they want to be on the register or not, but each family still holds the final say.

So, why does it matter? Well, because people can be inherently lazy. Or forgetful. Or uncomfortable. Whatever the reason, it means that signing onto the Organ Donor Register is something many people often want to do but never actually do it! By already being on the Register, it takes the pressure off them to sign on, and makes the job easier.

However, that can also mean we’re even less likely to bring up the topic with our family and friends. The thing is, whether we’ve signed the Register ourselves, or are simply happy enough that we’re on it automatically, the medical teams will always ask our next of kin, families or close friends for the final word. If the first time they face that conversation is at our bedside in Intensive Care, and especially without knowing what our own wishes might be, it makes a tough conversation even harder.

So, whatever you say, say something…

Say something to your family and friends. Talk about it. Ask them what they think. Tell them what you want.

Say something to the NI Health Department and the politicians.  Have a look at the new consultation – click here for the link.  You can respond by printing it out and filling it in – or online here. Maybe fill it in with your family and friends.

Say something to your families and friends even if you live in Wales or England where you already have the Soft Opt-Out system, or Scotland, joining in next March.  One system or another, families will always be asked to help the medical teams with that decision.

It may not sound like a fun conversation for Christmas, but it could be one of the most important conversations you’ll have.  And it could give some people the chance of more Christmases.  Maybe even someone you know and love.  What’s to lose?

So, whatever you say, say something…