Donors on register queue-jump

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Controversy is expected over a new register in which signed-up organ donors may become first in line to receive life-saving transplants.

The register has been brought about by the introduction last month of the Human Tissue Bill, which provided a broad framework for the collection, storage and use of tissue and organs.

An amendment to create a register of donors, which would go further than the present donor information on drivers' licences, was ruled unnecessary by a select committee.

However, the decision was opposed by non-profit group LifeSharers, and its Christchurch-based director, Andy Tookey, whose six-year-old daughter will eventually need a transplant due to a rare problem with tubes in her liver, has created the new register, which is not government-regulated.

Under his system, if a person on the register died the first people in line to receive his or her organs would be other eligible people signed up on the register, said Mr Tookey.

The system, which cost a "few thousand" dollars to set up, was not completely legally binding but went a step further than the present method where people signalled they wanted to be a donor on their driver's licence, almost as an afterthought, he said.

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Families could still veto their relatives' wishes to donate organs posthumously.

New Zealand has the Western world's worst organ donation rates.

Last year only 38 New Zealanders died and donated organs - six of them from Nelson. The previous year 25 people donated organs, none of whom were from Nelson.

The register was to be released at Parliament today and Mr Tookey said he expected it to spark opposition from the Minister of Health and the Maori Party.

The latter would likely oppose it on cultural grounds, he said. Maori Party health spokeswoman Tariana Turia was not available to comment but in the past she has said that while transplantation was an effective treatment, culturally for Maori "the importance of being buried whole is absolutely central".

Between 1988 and 1996 only six Maori families had consented to donating organs, but it was possible that in the future, whanau or hapu could re-evaluate their stance, given more education and hui discussions.

"This debate has already been taking place where there are whanau and hapu members who believe, in fact, that our bones are probably more important than our organs," she said.

Archdeacon Harvey Whakaruru, who is a vocal member of Nelson's Maori community, said that while he respected the Maori Party stance, he was a donor himself and "totally" believed in organ donations.

This came from his time as a renal dialysis nurse at Waikato Hospital, where he had seen the suffering of people who needed kidney transplants.

"I don't care what the Maori Party say - it's up to the family; it's up to the person."

Nelson Hospital specialist physician Bruce King, who was speaking personally and not on behalf of the hospital, said the register would help to raise awareness of the donor shortage.

But the register started a practice of asking who should receive donated organs, replacing the present "fair and equitable" system where organs went to the most urgent case on the waiting list, he said.

Health Minister David Cunliffe's office said there was room to add a register to the Human Tissue Bill at a later date.

 

The Nelson Mail