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Judith Collins v Phil Goff: Organ donation is the gift that keeps on giving

Donating an organ is less risky than farming – but unlike farming, ACC won't cover a donor's lost earnings.

Sunday Star Times - 30 August 2015

  • Surgeons perform a kidney transplant. The donor will be left with minimal financial support.

Surgeons perform a kidney transplant. The donor will be left with minimal financial support.


Donating an organ in New Zealand, is the freely given gift of life to a person who may otherwise die.

Choosing to be a donor is not cheap and there is currently limited financial support for donors through their recovery period. Lack of support can mean a significant drop in income due to the amount of time away from work and being unable to contribute fully to family life until recovered.

They've already given a kidney, why should they pay for that?

We need to rethink our approach to compensating organ donors for their expenses and recognise the potential for maximising a win-win situation. The person needing the organ gets to live a longer and better life, contribute to a community and a family, and continue to pay taxes. The rest of us get to benefit from significant savings across the health system.

The best example of this win-win is the case of kidney donation against dialysis for those suffering permanent kidney failure.

A recent report by economist Elizabeth Prasad, published by the New Zealand Initiative, shows the Ministry of Health provides dialysis services to more than 2,500 patients at an average annual cost of more than $60,000 each. Prasad estimates that a living donor transplant saves the health system about $125,000 per donation, over the life of the patient. 

According to the experts at the National Renal Advisory Board, kidney transplant is the best treatment for all medically suitable patients. Yet in 2013, the total number of renal transplant surgeries performed was just 115, compared to 2,584 patients on dialysis. 351 of those patients on dialysis died.

Work and Income currently provides financial support for donors for up to 12 weeks'. This is intended to go some way towards compensation for lost income but at a maximum weekly payment of $210.13 for single adults and $350 for an adult in a partnership it is certainly not any kind of real compensation. The New Zealand Initiative puts the average weekly income in 2014 at $991.

Donation is less risky than some of the occupations on the new Health and Safety Reform Bill, like farming. But should someone be injured in their workplace, ACC will cover up to 80 percent of a person's weekly income. 

Approximately half of all renal transplants are from living donors, with the vast majority of these donations coming from relatives and friends of patients.

It's clear that the system is cashing in on the kindness and altruism of friends and family members of patients. This is short-sighted behaviour. No one should be out of pocket for giving the gift of life to another.


Donors who undergo an operation to donate an organ to save the life of another are heroes.

Of course they deserve as much help as the community can give them, and paying them 80 per cent of their normal weekly income is the least we can do for them while they are off work recovering. That's why I supported Chris Bishop's Members Bill in Parliament last week as did every other MP.

Donating a kidney to save or improve a life is the ultimate act of compassion toward another human being. It takes courage and sacrifice and involves pain. We should do everything possible to encourage organ donations.  Some 217 New Zealanders last year received an organ donation – a life saver for many of them. But hundreds more are still waiting and some will die before they get a transplant.

This measure is one of a number we need to take to improve that situation.

 - Sunday Star Times

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Katie Tookey's story is on video.

Kiwis like Katie depend on 'the gift of life'.

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