Exclusive rights put organ donors under fire

02:58, Apr 24 2010

A Christchurch man is "misleading" people into thinking they can skip waiting lists for organs, experts say.

Andy Tookey set up LifeSharers three years ago to help improve New Zealand's organ donation rate, which is among the lowest in the Western world.

Members sign a contract saying they want their organs to go to LifeSharers members first.

The organisation was founded in the United States as a non-profit national network of organ donors.

Tookey says there is a shortage of organs and it is not fair to give them to non-donors when there are donors who also need organs.

Organ Donation New Zealand donor co-ordinator Janice Langlands said the LifeSharers model could not work because it did not have the transplant service's support.

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"It's unfortunate, because he's misleading the public," Langlands said.

"Allocation of organs should go on medical emergency, and not disadvantage those who haven't signed up to be LifeSharers."

New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit clinical director Professor Stephen Munn said most organ donation organisations around the world had decided that no-one should be able to decide who their organs went to, unless it was to a family member. "The problem is that the assignment of organs to a particular category of people makes it very difficult because families could start saying, `I only want my organs to go to people who are Catholic or white'," he said.

The number of organ donors in any country was always small, which meant most people would be disadvantaged.

The situation had not yet arisen where a LifeSharers member had become a donor, but current rules meant they would be treated like any other donor and organs would be assigned according to waiting times and the best tissue match.

Munn said LifeSharers members on the national waiting list for organs still expected to get an organ from a non-member if it came up.

"The reason we are not on board is because we think the premise is there's a category of persons who are somehow deemed to be more worthy than other people because they've said they would be organ donors," Munn said.

Tookey said members were sent information stating Organ Donation New Zealand's position.

"It's only misleading in their minds because they are saying they won't comply with the instructions and wishes of a donor," he said.

"Legally, people can direct where their organs go.

"I am not responsible for the other end, which says they are not going to do it," he said.

"Maybe I should make that clearer on [the website]."

If doctors refused to follow the person's wishes to give preferential treatment to other LifeSharers, it could mean throwing away good organs, which would create a public outcry.

Tookey said LifeSharers' approach was not the same as discriminating on the basis of age, sex or race.

It created a group of people who got preferential treatment, but there were no restrictions on who could join.

"The idea is to spur people, incentivise people into thinking about donating," Tookey said.

He said organs belonged to individuals who should be able to decide how they were used.

The LifeSharers model had recently been adopted in Israel as government policy, and Tookey wanted New Zealand to follow suit.

The Press