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Opposition puzzles campaigner

29 June 2006

Organ donor campaigner Andy Tookey cannot believe that New Zealand doctors are "vehemently opposed" to his proposed law change to make organ donors' wishes legally binding.

The Mairangi Bay resident says the figures from a recent report highlights the need for his Human Tissue Amendment Act to be passed because too many patients are being given old or diseased organs for transplant.

The report reveals that there were only 29 donors last year, a number that would have been even lower if doctors hadn't used the lesser organs.

It shows that out of all transplants last year, 19 organs used came from donors that had hepatitis, diabetes and cancer, and that almost a third of donors were smokers at the time of their death.

Mr Tookey aims to clarify current organ donor laws so that diseased organs are not used for transplants and donors' final wishes are respected by doctors and families.

"I am proposing that we set up a register, that is also available online, so that people can keep up to date with their decision.

"Nobody should be able to override your wish to be a donor, but doctors say they have several arguments why this wouldn't work," he says.

New Zealand Liver Transplant Unit director Stephen Munn says one of the reasons a register will not work is because it will not actually solve the problem.

"From overseas experience, I think that this idea of having a voluntary register will increase publicity but it won't actually increase the number of organ donors.

"This is because countries like the United States and Britain, who have these registers in place, never actually get many people signed up," he says.

Mr Tookey says an earlier statement by Mr Munn saying that "beggars can't be choosers" when it came to accepting diseased organs, is unacceptable.

"How dare somebody say that a patient knocking on death's door be called a beggar, when doctors are throwing away healthy organs because the family has overridden a patient's wishes," he says.

Mr Munn says he did not mean the statement to be harsh, but was highlighting the fact that when young healthy organs are not available they have to use older ones, and have "very good outcomes".

Mr Tookey says his Human Tissues Amendments Act, drafted with the help of National MP Jackie Blue, also aims to place people waiting for organs, but who aren't donors themselves, below people that are.

"It's like awarding the Lotto prize to somebody who didn't even buy a ticket.

"Hypothetically, if I - as someone who advocates organ donation - needed a kidney transplant, I go on the list according to the same criteria as someone who is totally against it," he says.

Mr Tookey, whose four-year-old daughter Katie will need a transplant in the future after being diagnosed with a rare liver disease when she was six weeks old, says his proposal is about saving lives.

"We must have these protocols in place because doctors could technically save seven other lives from one organ donor.

"It's about `uncomplicating' the system and making it easier for families."

Mr Tookey's petition is online at www.givelife.org.nz

courtesy of the North Shore Times - www.stuff.co.nz

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