Queenstown has most organ donors

SHANE COWLISHAW
Last updated 05:00 21/07/2014

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People from Queenstown and Wellington are more likely to indicate "yes" to organ donation on their driving licences, while those in Wairoa and Kawerau will probably say "no".

Information provided by the New Zealand Transport Agency has revealed an almost even split when it comes to ticking the box and leaving it blank.

But drivers in certain regions are far more likely to say yes than others, and Queenstown-Lakes District residents have the highest proportion, with 66.2 per cent indicating they were organ donors.

Wellington was not far behind at 62 per cent, while Kapiti Coast was also high at 59.4 per cent.

At the other end of the scale, Wairoa recorded the lowest level, just 31.4 per cent indicating they were donors. Kawerau was just above at 33.7 per cent, while Opotiki was at 36.2 per cent.

The data does not give a complete picture - for instance, not everyone has a licence - but it is the only record of donor indication available.

Unlike some countries, New Zealand does not have an organ donor registry; instead, it asks people to indicate their preference when they gain or renew their licence.

But even with this indication, the final decision rests with the family of a dead person, who can decline the donation no matter what the licence says.

In New Zealand, 1.75 million people say they are donors, but last year only 36 families agreed to donate their loved ones' organs.

Organ Donation NZ clinical director Stephen Streat said this was not because of an unwillingness to donate, but rather the strict criteria that must be met.

It was a common misconception that, if someone died in a car crash they could donate their organs. This was usually impossible, as death almost always had to occur when a person was in hospital on a ventilator.

Because of this, most donations were made from patients who were brain dead, but only 0.5 per cent of deaths occurred in this fashion, he said.

Most donations were from brain haemorrhages or swelling to the brain from accidents where the patients were transported to hospital alive but had no chance of recovery.

Strict protocols were followed, with the family's wishes always top priority, but speed was essential and usually retrieval took place within 12 hours of brain death, with a transplant happening within a day.

About half of the families who were faced with the decision agreed to donation - a proportion similar to the licence indication figures.

"For the families, the important issue is not how many people are on the waiting list, it's their loved one dying on the bed in front of them," Streat said.

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Organ Donation NZ discouraged contact between a donor's family and recipients, but did facilitate anonymous letters between the parties. 

- The Southland Times

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