Organ donation should be our choice now, not our family's when we die
Simon Wharton12:29, Aug 21 2018
On April 13, 2016, I had surgery to remove and donate a fist-sized chunk of my liver to my six-month-old niece, Katie.
But I'm not going to talk about myself or Katie, instead I want to talk about New Zealand's broken organ donation system.
There has been an increase in discussion about organ donation, following the story of 15-year-old Jessica Manning who is in desperate need of two life saving transplants and has created a petition for an opt-out organ donation system.
Presumed consent is a contentious subject and both the Prime Minister and Minister of Health have come out against the approach. However, what has received less attention in recent times is questioning why the current system isn't working.
When you have one of your organs removed, it gives you a lot of time to think. So, during my recover, I started to look into New Zealand's approach to organ donation and I was shocked to find out that we have one of the lowest donation rates in the world.
What was even more shocking than this is that there is no system in place for New Zealanders to choose whether or not their organs will be donated at the time of death. Instead, the decision is left with the family
In turn, this means that nobody - not even the Prime Minister who stated she is in an interview last week - can say with confidence that they're an organ donor.
I love my mum and dad but they can't tell me what religion to practice, who to love or what I do with my body. However, despite this, it is impossible, under the current system, for me to choose whether my organs are donated in the event of my passing.
I could write a book on why organ donation is the best thing since sliced bread, but the decision would ultimately still rest with my next of kin.
For argument's sake, let's say that I don't think of organ donation as the best thing since sliced bread. I could believe this for cultural or spiritual reasons or because the idea of someone else using my organs gives me the heebie-jeebies - these are all valid reasons.
In this case, my next of kin will still have the final say as to what happens with my organs, they could possibly donate them against my wishes.
If we moved to an opt-out system and made eligible New Zealanders presumed donors, unless otherwise stated, this would then give those who don't ant to be donors the chance to have their voices heard and choices respected.
I've discussed organ donation with a number of people, many of whom stated they're a donor on their driver's licence and therefore expect their organs to be donated in the event of the death, if circumstances allow it.
Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The NZTA website states that ticking the 'yes' box on your driver's licence form only means that you have indicated your wish to be identified as an organ and tissue donor. This doesn't automatically mean that your organs or tissues will be donated at the time of your death.
In fact, the current driver's licence system may actually be more disadvantageous than beneficial. During the licensing process, very little information is provided, it's difficult and time consuming to change the information on your licence, which lasts for 10 years, you can't choose which organs you're willing to donate, and it can provide people with a false idea of whether they're a donor or not.
In reality, your best chance of trying to have a say in what's done with your organs is to make sure your family knows what you would like to happen as they're the ones who get to decide, after all.
In saying all this, the main reason I strongly believe that all Kiwis should be given the a choice about their own organs is because I was able to decide.
When it became clear that my niece needed a liver transplant, my family and I knew we had few options and very little time. Luckily for us, live organ donation was an option. I volunteered immediately and started going through the necessary tests to find out if I was a match.
Throughout the extensive process it was made very clear to me on numerous occasions that I was in control. I had the choice to stop testing and drop out as a donor and once the doctors were satisfied that I was a viable match, it was my choice to go through with the operation.
Having that choice means that Katie is now turning three in November. This was a choice that I wouldn't let anyone take away from me.