Campaigner urges organ donor register to lift NZ's low donation rates
Wellington man Michael Boyes told his sisters he wanted to be an organ donor, despite not having a driver's licence to document his intentions. His family donated his organs when he died suddenly in February.
Organ donation needs to be clearer and simpler if donation rates are to be lifted, a leading campaigner says.
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman announced a raft of proposed changes on Tuesday, including improvements to the existing driver's licence donor register, and ensuring doctors take donors' wishes into account when seeking consent from their families.
But long-time organ donation campaigner Andy Tookey, who has pushed for an organ donor register since 2002, believes sticking with the current driver's licence system will fail to improve donor rates.
CAMERON BURNELL/ FAIRFAX NZ
Michael Boyes' mother Isabel, father Craig and sister Jessica. Craig said he was shocked that families could currently veto a person's wishes to donate their organs.
He said donor registers had proved successful overseas, including Australia, and pointed to Coleman's support for such a register in the past.
* Revamp planned to boost organ donor rates
* Potential donors blocked by family and doctors
* Michael Boyes donates organs to save the lives of seven others
* Uncertainty about organ transplant waiting lists
* Organ donation - the gift of a lifetime
* Wellington woman's death brings life to five others
* Waiting for a kidney
* Inconsistent organ transplant decisions sparks review
* Organ donation review will look at cultural barriers
A decade ago, Coleman, then in opposition, strongly backed an amendment bill that sought to introduce a national organ donor register, which would include non-drivers, unlike the current system.
EMMA DANGERFIELD/FAIRFAX NZ
Health Minister Jonathan Coleman backed a national donor register in 2007, but said on Tuesday that the weight of evidence had shifted away from the idea.
"I would say to Andy Tookey that he should not give up on his goal of getting this register established, because I think that it is only a matter of time before it happens, and he certainly knows that he has the National Party's support the next time this matter comes before the Parliament," Coleman said in Parliament in November 2007.
However, on Tuesday, Coleman said the weight of evidence had shifted away from a standalone register, and changing New Zealand's culture towards organ donation was more important.
A review by the Health Ministry, completed in March, proposed improving the existing driver's licence system, but also called for future consideration of a standalone register. That proposal was absent from the consultation document published on Tuesday.
The proposals will be open to public consultation for the next seven weeks.
Craig Boyes, whose son Michael donated organs to seven people after his death aged 25 in February, also backed a binding organ donor register.
As a Wellington lawyer, Boyes said he helped people to write wills that were legally enforceable, yet was stunned to discover that families could veto a person's wishes to donate their organs under the driver's licence scheme.
His son did not have a driver's licence, so had no documented wishes, but fortunately had discussed organ donation with one of his sisters after noticing she had ticked it on her licence.
"The fact that he had wanted it meant we wanted it too."
Until the mid-2000s, New Zealand and Australia had similar deceased organ donor rates, but Australia did a major revamp and nearly doubled its rate between 2007 and 2015.
New Zealand's rate in 2015 was 11.8 donors per million population, which the Health Ministry aims to increase to 20 by 2025. That compares with 18.3 in Australia in 2015, and 39.7 in Spain, which has the world's highest donor rate.
In April, the New Zealand Transport Agency said 54 per cent of licensed drivers, or 1,850,297, people indicated they were willing to donate their organs on death. In 2015, 53 dead people donated organs, with only 40 per cent of families agreeing to the donation.
That compared to 93 per cent of families in Australia, who agreed if the donor was on the national register. The figure fell to 46 per cent when families were unaware of a loved one's wishes.
* You can donate your eyes, skin, liver, kidney, pancreas, lungs and heart.
* You can indicate that you want to be a donor on your driver's licence, but that can be overruled posthumously by your family. Unless your family asks, doctors won't even check your driver's licence.
* Only four out of 10 families consent to an organ donation in New Zealand. That compares to about six out of 10 in Australia and Britain.
* Only in very unusual circumstances can anything other than a kidney be extracted from a dead donor. The donor must be brain-dead, but their body still functioning for other organs to be removed and transplanted successfully.
* Last year, there were 53 dead organ donors, with the number rising steadily but slowly from 29 in 2005.
* Wellington Hospital ICU provided 12 dead organ donors last year, the single largest source in the country.
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