|Garth George: Giving away our body parts is the Christian thing to do|
|When we ran our "Buried treasures" series a week or so ago - about all the important things the Government sneaked past us when we were preoccupied with the lead-up to the Christmas break - the one that intrigued me was about organ donations or, rather, the lack of them. |
It seems that as a nation we are disinclined to offer our body parts to others if we should die in circumstances in which our organs could be harvested for transplantation.
The bad news was that each year only about 40 dead New Zealanders donate organs, about 9.9 for every million people and one of the lowest rates in the developed world.
The good news was that 51 live donors gave kidneys for transplant last year - a la Grant Kereama to Jonah Lomu - and every one of them deserves our gratitude and praise for their courage and sacrifice in the interests of the wellbeing of another.
Not that you would think so when you read that the Government has only just consented to pay live organ donors for 12 weeks after surgery the equivalent of the sickness benefit - between $165 and $265 a week for a single person over 25 - or their pre-operation income if it is lower than that.
I would have thought - setting aside the fact that the value of such donations is incalculable - that the benefits to the health system would have encouraged the Government at least to pay any live donor his or her full income at the time of the operation.
But in this, as in most things, the Government reveals a parsimony that seems peculiar to New Zealand in the Western world and which is reflected in our low wages, paltry benefits for those who really need them, particularly the sick, shortchanging war veterans, miserly superannuation without perks and general bureaucratic meanness.
It strikes me that the philosophy of "welfare" in this country is to get away with spending the absolute minimum possible, to tell those who qualify what they are not entitled to rather than what they are, and to treat every applicant as if he or she is a bludger.
Not so in Australia. My one brush with the welfare system over there left me astounded at its gentleness and liberality. I found myself without work and registered as unemployed (I was not entitled to a benefit), then found a job in a city 800km away.
When I went in and told the unemployment people that I had found work, the bloke I dealt with informed me, without being asked, that I was entitled to have all my removal expenses paid, and fronted up with the $2000-odd dollars it cost.
But I digress. In a land in which so many people are concerned about recycling, I wonder why that principle hasn't extended to recycling body parts, which is what happens when an organ is taken from one person and inserted into another.
To my way of thinking that is no different to stripping a crashed motor vehicle of its useable parts, attaching them to other vehicles to make them perform better, and discarding the chassis and bodywork.
While I live my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but when I die and the Spirit departs, all that is left is an empty shell. And I couldn't care less what is done with it, except that it would please me if any part of it could be used to improve and/or lengthen the life of someone else.
Which, of course, is unlikely, since I intend to live to a ripe old age, at which time every single bit of me will be too well worn to be serviceable without some serious reconditioning.
Nevertheless, even if medical students want to use my carcass to practise their surgical or pathological skills, they will be welcome to it. After all, a new and perfect body awaits me on resurrection day.
I know that in some cultures - Maori, for instance - the taking of body parts is just not on, and I accept that absolutely. Nevertheless, the leaders of these cultures might well be encouraged to consider modifying traditional belief and practice.
I found it significant in our reports that in Spain, where the donor rate is an astounding 33.8 for every million people, the reasons given - somewhat patronisingly by a petty bureaucrat - were support from the Pope, an "obedient Catholic race" and resources being pumped into hospitals to identify and manage donors.
And it occurred to me that we could do with a bit of all that in this selfish and secular country. The leaders of the Catholic and other churches here might well take note, along with those who decide on the resourcing (or, rather, underresourcing) of our hospitals.
This is surely an area in which our churches could take the lead, encouraging the faithful to make their empty bodies available for organ retrieval and transplant, or while still alive offering kidneys and bits of liver to those who will suffer and die without them.
There are few more sacrificial and selfless acts than that. Jesus told us he desired of us mercy rather than sacrifice but in this case Christians could exhibit both, and set an example for others to follow.
In the meantime, political procrastination and bureaucratic inertia will ensure that many more New Zealanders die from lack of a transplant before anything useful is done to set up an acceptable and efficient system to boost the number of organ donations.
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Katie Tookey's story is on video.
Kiwis like Katie depend on 'the gift of life'.