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Bill aims to improve organ donor rate


08 November 2006

Courtesy of STUFF - www.stuff.co.nz

The Government is aiming to improve New Zealand's poor rate of organ donation through new legislation and a register.

Health Minister Pete Hodgson said yesterday there were gaps in existing law and confusion around some interpretations of it.

Another problem was that the current driver licensing register was only an indication of a person's wishes, and did not provide legal consent.

Because of that, grieving families were often unsure what to do.

"The decisions surrounding organ donation are among the most difficult that individuals and their families will face," Mr Hodgson said.

"This bill aims to ensure a balance between respect for the autonomy of the individual and the cultural and spiritual needs of their family."

The legislation was designed to ensure the public and clinicians fully understood the consent process, Mr Hodgson said.

New Zealand's organ donation rate lags behind that of other developed countries, and the Government wants to raise public awareness of the informed consent process.

The Human Tissue Bill, introduced to Parliament yesterday, will replace the Human Tissue Act 1964.

Mr Hodgson said the Act was out of date, and the regulatory framework for human tissue was spread across a number of different statutes and regulations.

When it has passed its first reading it will be sent to the health select committee.

The committee will deal with the bill alongside a member's bill drafted by National MP Jackie Blue which proposes setting up a register of organ donors.

Mr Hodgson said work on a register would not start until the select committee had heard evidence and issued its report on the bill.

"I am seeking the committee's consideration of the international evidence surrounding donor registers to ensure that our register can maximise organ and tissue donations," he said.

A section of the bill covers the sale and purchase of tissue, and says researchers may seek authorisation to purchase tissue from entities or imported cell lines.

A spokesman for Mr Hodgson said this did not deal with the issue of whether stem cell research would be allowed in New Zealand.

The use of foetal stem cells, which can be grown into any type of tissue, has caused an international controversy.

Stem cell policy had not yet been decided and would require a separate Cabinet decision, the spokesman said.

The Advisory Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology would provide guidance on the use of human embryos, including their use to derive stem cells lines, in 2007, the spokesman said.

This process would involve public consultation.


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