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We need more organ donors

Waikato Times | Monday, 8 January 2007
When radio host Grant Kereama donated a kidney to rugby superstar Jonah Lomu in 2004 it put the words "organ donation" in the headlines for a prolonged, and rare, period of time.

Kereama's gift was seen as more than a spectacular human interest story involving a couple of high-profile celebrities; it was a selfless act that was widely applauded. Lomu had been a shambling wreck of his previous self before the transplant, but with it he was able to return to the rugby field. His form since then has been, of course, nondescript. That may be because of the myriad anti-rejection drugs he has had to take. But that he was able to return to playing a heavy contact sport like rugby was a remarkable achievement. There have been few similar successes worldwide.

Though the number of live donors –- people like Kereama who decide they can do without a body part to help, generally, a relative or friend –- has stayed relatively consistent since then, organ donation has remained a rarity. New figures show the country's donor rate has hit a record low. Just 25 people gifted organs last year, four down on the previous year, which at the time was the worst for a decade. The statistics mean we now have a donation rate of six per one million people, one of the poorest on the international stage. Spain has the highest rate at 35 donors per million, the US rate is 21 per million, while even Australia has a rate of 10.

One of the reasons for the drop-off in organ donation is one we should be proud of. With the road toll down, there are fewer serious road crashes and fewer people braindead. That's great news for anyone who uses the roads, but scant help to the more than 460 on the transplant waiting list.

Until the ethical, moral and medical concerns that hinder the possibility of genetically modified animal parts being used in humans –- and those issues may never be resolved –- alternatives need to be found.

A bill before Parliament is a good start to debate. Promoted by National's Jackie Blue, it would introduce a binding organ donation register, and would controversially end the ability of grieving families to block the harvesting of body parts from someone who had consented when alive. Labour has its own legislation pending which may supersede the National bill, but any discussion is welcome.

Better investment and co-ordination in hospital intensive care units is another area for improvement. If donors are to be identified and their organs kept viable, it requires a new focus from ICUs, where there is often trouble finding beds and resources to look after people who are living.

And the most obvious answer to the shortage is communication in families. Plans should be made for an untimely passing. Families should be prepared for the organ donation question from surgeons.

courtesy of the Waikato Times - www.stuff.co.nz

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