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Organ strife dead wrong

By MICHAEL LAWS - Sunday Star Times

OPINION Readers will appreciate that I'm not a particularly "deep" person. I am my gender, and despite the occasional philosopher or mystic, we males are a superficial lot.

Which explains the eternal attraction of the bimbo with boobs.

But occasionally we do stray into the emotional - usually after a Bledisloe Cup shocker or an outstanding curry - and get a bit blubbery.

We pause and reflect on the meaning of life, the expansion of the universe, and why we haven't won a Rugby World Cup in more than two decades.

So it was last week as I contemplated my driver's licence. And tried to understand why, if most of us have "donor" typed on it, only 31 people in 2008 actually donated their organs to others.

Sure, you have to be dead. But a lot of us die every year. We fall off things, crash into other things or the wife catches us with the bimbo. That sum must equal more than 31. And given that we've committed our mortal remains to assist the mortality of others, then what gives?

The answer is simple. Stupidity. In specific, a fatal combination of medical mindlessness and cultural ignorance. All wrapped into one piece of PC legislation called the Human Tissue Act (2008). The act was supposed to make organ donation simpler and numerous.

It has had the opposite effect because it allows relatives to overrule the intent and wishes of the dead. It also elevates superstitious gibberish and cultural gobbledegook to the same pantheon as reason and logic.

Add a failure of leadership at Organ Donation New Zealand - Dr Stephen Streat making Corrections' Barry Matthews look like some kind of Harvard genius - and you have what you have. Hundreds of desperate Kiwis awaiting the chance for life, and tens of thousands of New Zealanders going to the grave, intact and entire.

Streat's performance is central to the failure of organ donation in this country. He opposed the sensible suggestions contained in National MP Jacqui Blue's 2006 private member's bill that would have created a central register for organ donations.

He was instrumental in the construction of the Human Tissue Act and remains a resolute defender of the relative veto. Despite it being his job to find new donors, the total number dropped to just 31 last year. All he now needs is the imprimatur of State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie to be wholly condemned.

This is a classic failure of leadership. Sanctioned by former health minister David Cunliffe, administered by Streat and supported by subtle racists like Tariana Turia. A woman who finds it perfectly OK to use Maori cultural beliefs to deny donation, but whose own constituents are actually in the greatest need.

Which is the elephant in the room when it comes to organ donation. Cultural silliness from Maori and Pacific Island folk, that there's something inherently righteous about going to the grave with all your God- given bits. And yet they are first in the queue to accept organs when required.

Certainly this is not the universal view of all Maori, no matter the inverted racism that the Maori Party preached during the passage of the Human Tissue Act. It's just that white policymakers and medical practitioners tend to assume that if you're brown, then you should not be asked to donate the body parts of a dead relative.

In fact, the Human Tissue Act requires the "cultural and spiritual needs, values and beliefs of the immediate family" to be considered before any organ donation can go ahead. Stuff the deceased: after all, it was only their desire that it should happen!

Which is the inherent problem with the act, health bureaucrats and Dr Streat.

They regard the living family's wishes as more important than the dead person's demands. And given that such logic does not apply to wills or other legal documents, then why should it apply to body organs?

You can tick donor on your driver's licence, specify your intent in your will, and tattoo your body bits with "Take Me" but it won't make a blind bit of difference. Because some busybody relative - who you may well have despised in life - can still veto your decision.

But it is this cultural dimension that is most disturbing. If one follows the objections of the Maori Party to their logical conclusion, then no Maori will ever donate a body part. Yet, they will continue to accept them. That is not culture - that is racism. And racism condoned by the state and the medical profession.

There must be times when New Zealanders get bold enough to challenge the superstitious or silly excesses of other cultures. We have done it with Somali refugees and the tendency for some to regard female circumcision as an acceptable cultural practice. And so, on this issue of organ donation, must we challenge Maori and Polynesian practice.

They either enter the 21st century or condemn their own people to the lingering disability or death that is organ failure. And the latter must not be an option.

Similarly, we must elevate the wish of the deceased beyond that of some grieving relative. If it was their wish to gift life to others, then that is a more virtuous end than accepting the negative grief of remaining family members. Or, in this case, one dissenting family member.

The technology currently exists in the New Zealand health and hospital system to properly record the intent of dying or deceased patients.

Placing "donor" on one's driver's licence is not necessarily going to alert hospital specialists to the deceased's intent. A simple form being filled out upon hospital treatment - as is already the case - and then kept within a central register would be sufficient.

And sack Streat. He has a chilling effect upon organ donations and any sensible advancement of policy. He refuses to tackle cultural stupidity and discounts the desires of the deceased. He must go. And then resurrect Jacqui Blue's private member's bill of 2006, and start again.

Anything less is to accept the current misery and suffering - of patients severely debilitated and dying, because of medical unctuousness and cultural ignorance.

Courtesy of STUFF

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