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National organ donor register plan dismissed


A leading transplant specialist has dismissed a high-level recommendation to establish a national register of organ donors.

A health select committee yesterday unanimously recommended the creation of a national register in response to a petition submitted by Andy Tookey, the Mairangi Bay father of two-year-old Katie Tookey who has a rare liver disorder.

The only official record of potential donors is carried on driver licences. There were 400 people on the national waiting list last year.

Only 38 people became donors, fewer than 10 per million people.

Professor Stephen Munn, director of Auckland Hospital's liver transplant unit, says a national register is a great concept, but does not deliver much "bang for your buck".

He said a computerised register would not attract a large enough response to justify the cost. The database would then have to be updated annually to ensure donors still wished to be included and allow changes to the organs they were willing to donate.

"And then the chances of one of those people actually becoming donors is about 10 per million per year," said Professor Munn. A previous attempt to establish a register was abandoned because of insufficient money to load the information onto computer.

A more effective solution was better training of staff in intensive care units "because that's where the donors are".

About 40 donors are needed each year and there are about 80 deaths annually which meet brain death criteria. Professor Munn said the families of brain dead patients were always asked if they would be willing to donate their organs and this process could be improved.

"It's obviously a very sensitive issue and has to be conducted with exquisite care," he said.

Mr Tookey said the committee's report supported his claim that the country's organ donation system was an embarrassment.

He said his daughter was doing remarkably well as most children with the same disorder required a transplant before their first birthday.

Health committee chairwoman Steve Chadwick said people did not think about organ donation when they applied for a licence, so a register would be the best way of allowing potential donors to make their decisions in an informed manner.


The health committee recommendations included:

* Paying for continuing education for health professionals on organ donation.

* Funding an ongoing public awareness campaign aimed at increasing donor rate.

* Establishing and financing a national organ donor agency.

* Requiring that agency to coordinate the collection of organs and train those carrying out the collection.

* Establishing a dedicated national organ donor register.

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