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MPs go back on their word

MPs go back on their word

"MPs call for organ donor register:" "Govt wrong to reject organ donor register:" "Minister Wimps on organ donation: "Organ donation in too hard basket:”
“Organ Donor Register to be Established:” “Labour Plumps for Organ Donor Record:"

You would be forgiven for thinking that these newspaper headlines were as a result of last week's announcement by Parliaments’ Health Select Committee on their findings on organ donation.

These headlines are of course from newspaper reports from over three years ago…

Last week the Health Select Committee reversed their previous announcements and the majority voted to have no organ donor register. They made no recommendations at all on organ donation which was in stark contrast to what many of them said in Parliament last year.

Back in 2004 the Health Select Committee recommended an organ donor register, Which the Government then rejected and sent back to the committee. The committee looked at it in more detail and again recommended a register. It was rejected a second time.

Curiously just before the 2005 election the government announced that they would indeed introduce a register but it would have to wait until the Review of the Human Tissue Act 1964 was completed so that the two could be tied in together.

The Committee thought that organ donation with its serious shortage should be looked at as fast as possible without tying it in with other less important legislation. This was again rejected and a number of people would have died in the meantime whilst the issue was lumped along other issues not relevant to saving lives.

Three years on and finally the Human Tissue Bill came before Parliament. Though this time they also had to consider a Private Members Bill from National MP Dr. Jackie Blue, which called for a legally binding register.

All the signs were looking good as the Health Committee had twice recommended a register; the government had announced that there would be a register and now at the first readings of both bills the speeches from MP’s from all party’s were in favour of register.

All agreed in Parliament that the current driving licence system for recording your donor wishes was deeply flawed; it excluded non drivers and was not informed consent.

Barbara Stewart from NZ First summed it all up in her press release all those years ago:

“If the Minister was serious about improving our dismal organ donation rates she would be taking a more proactive stance than simply deferring any action until next year at the earliest and possibly even further down the track,” said Mrs Stewart.

“We are left with the current driver’s licence system for recording organ donor preferences which many donors believe is an official record of their wish to donate but which in fact is a total waste of time.

“The Minister has passed up another opportunity to set in place a system which works and in the meantime people waiting for transplants are no better off than they were before the select committee considered this issue,” said Mrs Stewart.

Sue Kedgely of the Green Party was concerned more recently at the first reading of the bill when she said:

“So, frankly, the driver’s-licence system, as we all agreed many years ago, does not work, and we need to scrap it. We need to set up an organ donor register, and we need much more publicity.”

Even the former Chair of the Health Committee, Labour’s Steve Chadwick agreed:

“I admit to some frustration with the New Zealand driver’s-licence system, and the farce that it is to tick the box to be registered as a donor.”

However, all these fine speeches have amounted to nothing, when last week they announced that the majority had not only scrapped Jackie Blue’s bill in its entirety, which also included provision for a public awareness campaign but they were also recommending that there be no register whatsoever.

No other recommendations were made in regard to improving the organ donor rate.

The committee, acting on the advice of the Ministry of Health noted:

“We were informed that there is as yet no compelling evidence that an organ and tissue donor register increases the overall rate of organ and tissue donation.”

The Ministry appear to have done a ‘U’ turn, as in their own previous presentation they confirmed that in the USA, 21 organ donor services that they contacted over half had said that there was an increase in donors as a result of their register.

And the Ministry's chief clinical advisor, Dr Sandy Dawson, in an interview said; ‘the’ register will ensure there is an informed consent process.

It was the Ministry that gave the government the policy advice that a register ‘should’ go ahead.

The issue is not just about whether a register will increase the donor rate, but that it will give people informed consent, which is a right of all New Zealander’s under the health code, something that is not possible under the current driving licence system.

Pete Hodgson, the Minister of Health said in his speech to Parliament.

“I think the House is united on the idea that we do need to improve organ donation rates in this country, and if the select committee has any wisdom it wishes to proffer, then I, for one, would be pleased to receive it.”

Unfortunately the majority of the committee did not have any suggestions, or wisdom it seems, as they offered neither and consigned organ donation once again back into the ‘too hard basket.’


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