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Dad wants his little girl safe

11 May 2006

GIVE LIFE: Organ donation crusader Andy Tookey with his daughter Katie. Tookey has been campaigning to change NZ's donor system since Katie was diagnosed with a rare liver disease. The bill he helped draft had its first reading in Parliament last week.
MIKE KNOTT/North Shore Times

Don't mess with the Took-inator. That's the message from Mairangi Bay man and organ donor lobbyist Andy Tookey.

Mr Tookey has been campaigning to change New Zealand's donor system since his daughter Katie was diagnosed with a rare liver disease when she was six weeks old.

While four-year-old Katie's health is good at the moment, she will probably need a liver transplant when she's older.

Mr Tookey reviewed the organ donor system and decided it needed major improvements in terms of format, administration and public education.

For the past four years he has lobbied the government and now, with the help of National MP Dr Jackie Blue, he has drafted the Human Tissues (organ donation) Amendment Bill.

It had its first reading in Parliament last week and after an overwhelming show of support from MPs, has been fast tracked to the health select committee for public submissions.

"It's funny when you've taken four years to get to this point, to sit there and listen to the praise. It's really quite powerful in there."

Mr Tookey says if passed into law as it is, the bill would prevent family members from overturning the wishes of a registered donor.

He says the donor register would allow people to specify which organs they wanted to donate, so it wouldn't be all or nothing.

Mr Tookey says at the moment the only way to inform everyone of your wish to be an organ donor is to register on your driving licence.

But he says the donor section of a driver licence is not legally binding because it is not considered to be informed consent.

He says should someone die unexpectedly, donor status on a driver licence is not even checked, and the person's family is asked what they want to do.

Mr Tookey says even though the person may have had strong beliefs about organ donation, it's a normal reaction for a grieving family to say `no'.

He says he won't let anything stand in his way of improving New Zealand's Third World donation system.

"Our organ donation rates are the lowest in the Western world, and on par with Peru and Costa Rica. Hundreds and hundreds of people rely on me to see them through. I get emails from people saying `thanks for what you're doing, we would do it but we're too ill and too tired'."

Mr Tookey says the bill has been criticised by some doctors for reasons that don't stack up.

"As humans we have a right to life. The doctors can't do any more for that person who just died. They're actually condemning another six or seven people to death."

He says ideally New Zealand would operate itss donor system like the Spanish system.

"You go on the Spanish register unless you opt off," he says.

He says whether people agree with the amendment bill or not, they should have a say on the issue.

"It's a public issue. We should all have a say what we want to do with our bodies, not what the doctors or our family wants

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