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EDITORIAL: Organ-donor rights must be upheld

02.05.2006

PAUL TAGGART

Our politicians are much maligned, often with good reason.

But, at the end of the day, democracy is better than the alternatives and our representatives have to be trusted to do what they think is right for society as a whole, even though individuals or groups of individuals often may disagree.

A case in point is the microchipping of dogs. Its aim is to prevent people being savaged. A by-product of the legislation is that compliance costs will increase for every farmer in the country.

Whether the perceived gains outweigh the obvious financial pain for the productive sector has to be a political call.

Or, an issue that is not about money, but life and death, is a law change to be considered by our politicians tomorrow, which would legally enforce anyone's wish to become an organ donor after his or her death.

As with the dog-chipping legislation, there are those who oppose the legislation - on this occasion it is doctors, who claim the such a new law would be unenforceable.

The aim of National MP Jackie Blue's private member's bill is to boost New Zealand's low rate of organ donation.

It is certain to pass at least its first vote - to take it to a select committee for detailed consideration - as Labour has agreed to that initial support. But it will encounter opposition from doctors.

The bill would create an opt-on database of people who, on the basis of informed consent, wished to become organ donors. They could state which organs they wished to donate.

The legislation would also prevent anyone from overturning the wishes of a registered organ donor.

At present, hospital staff comply with the wishes of family when a potential donor dies in circumstances where their organs could be used for patients needing a transplant.

Last year just 29 people became organ donors after they had died, New Zealand's lowest number in more than a decade. About 350 people are waiting for a transplant, mainly kidneys, but also corneas, lungs and other organs.

The shortage of donors means that some patients die waiting for a transplant, as the donor consent on drivers' licences is not legally binding. Just one objection from a relative and a person's organs would not be taken, even if they had specifically requested to be a donor.

Intensive Care Society vice-president Peter Hicks, of Wellington Hospital, said some doctors opposed the bill for reasons he declined to explain in detail before tomorrow's debate.

"There is a process under way to review the appropriateness and form of an organ-donor register. This process should be allowed to be completed without further legislation pre- determining the result."

What he appears to be saying is that it isn't Parliament's business. He is wrong. It is a matter for our MPs.

There is ample opportunity for doctors' concerns to be heard at the select committee stage and amendments made if appropriate. But they shouldn't be allowed to derail the wishes of so many New Zealanders - 1.1 million people have said yes to organ donation on their driver's licences. At the end of the day democracy should prevail.




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