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EDITORIAL: No donors so why not buy kidneys?


Louis Pierard

The death of 87-year-old Iris Wilkinson in Auckland marks the end of a rewarding life, the latter half made possible by the thoughtfulness of others.

Mrs Wilkinson was New Zealand's longest surviving kidney-transplant patient. She received her new organ in 1969 at the age of 49 after suffering kidney disease and being dependent on a dialysis machine. She spent the last three years of her life in a rest home with other, unrelated medical problems.

In its relative infancy, organ transplantation then was a more precarious affair. Mrs Wilkinson's daughter says her mother determinedly took great care of her health, strictly following medical advice, even boiling all drinking water.

By contrast, today's poster boy for life-saving kidney transplants is former All Black Jonah Lomu, who appears to have taken it all in his stride in his wish to get back onto the rugby field.

Mrs Wilkinson's story is a testament to the need to raise awareness of organ transplants.

Together, she and Lomu - one at the end and the other at the start of their reprieve - should be compelling evidence of the fulfilment that comes from the minor sacrifice of donation.

However, the public remains unimpressed or, at best, indifferent. The Australia and New Zealand Organ Donation Registry 2006 reports New Zealand is among the countries with the lowest organ donor rates.

Only 29 people became donors after death last year, compared with a usual tally in recent years of around 40. Transplant campaigner Andy Tookey said the number would have been far lower last year, "if doctors had not resorted to using older and diseased organs for transplant". The average waiting time for a kidney transplant in Australia and New Zealand is about four years. About one patient a week dies waiting for a kidney.

One cannot force people to yield their body parts posthumously but if so few can be inspired by the new lives granted to the likes of Mrs Wilkinson or are shocked at the miserable propects of those waiting for salvation that never comes, then more creative approaches should be considered.

One suggestion is to legitimise the sale of kidneys. From last count, there were about four million kidneys available for transplant in New Zealand in every man woman and child (most of whom need only one).

The sale of a non-essential kidney - provided there is informed, autonomous consent, and that rigid guidelines and minimum prices are maintained - must be debated.

While the idea raises profound moral issues, the fact that people are dying when they might so easily be saved could hardly be more morally repugnant.


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