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Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Families stop loved ones' organ donation

The families of 21 people who died in intensive care units last year refused to allow their loved one's organs to be used for transplants.

However, the official figures do not reveal how many of those who died had ticked "donor" on their driver's licence.

The figures, released under the Official Information Act to Christchurch campaigner Andy Tookey, showed that of 55 potential organ donors last year, just 25 went became actual donors.

Two families were not asked and another 21 families refused permission.

Three people were medically unsuitable for donation and another four did not meet criteria which states only brain-dead patients may be considered for organ donation.

New Zealand has one of the lowest organ-donor rates in the world, with six donors per million people compared to 10 and 11 per million in Australia and Britain, respectively.

The United States has 21 donors per million people.

Tookey hoped a a legally binding register of organ donors would improve donor rates.

He has co-authored National MP Jackie Blue's private member's bill to create such a register.

Tookey said Government proposals for a donor register which allowed families to veto donation for spiritual, cultural or distress reasons, was inadequate.

"If people have registered to be donors and wish to be donors, I don't think other people should be able to veto their wishes," said Tookey. "It is a human rights issue."

Organ Donation New Zealand clinical director Stephen Streat said families refused permission for organ donation for a range of reasons.

One of the most common was because they did not believe their loved one was dead.

Streat said a Western Australian audit found families refused permission for organ donation in 24 out of 42 cases, including five cases where they did not believe their relative was dead.

In the United States, families refused about 60 per cent of the time.

Streat said its significantly higher donor rates were due to a greater number of brain-dead patients.

Streat said doctors did not ask about organ donation when no immediate family was available, if families had already said they would not consider organ donation, or where a coroner had refused permission.

Some families had complex situations, including warring relatives where it was impossible to discuss organ donation.

Streat did not believe refusal by families was the critical factor in organ donation.

He said a greater proportion of families agreed to the use of their relative's organs (45 per cent) than the proportion of the population who were signed up as donors on their driver's licences (40 per cent).

Organ Donation New Zealand is awaiting final ethical approval for an ongoing audit of the roughly 1500 deaths in the nation's intensive care units each year.

Courtesy of STUFF www.stuff.co.nz

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