Organ donors need to talk to families first - National MP 13 April 2004
Presumed consent for organ donations will only work if people discuss the issue with their family before a crisis hits, says National's health spokeswoman Lynda Scott.
A Health Ministry proposal for presumed consent, where organs would be automatically available for donation unless a person had officially registered an objection, would probably allow for family to veto the donation - as they could with the current system of ticking a drivers licence to register as a donor, she said.
She argued New Zealand needed to implement a register under which people were sent information on organ donation and asked to discuss the issue with their families before consenting.
"The thing is that people tick the driver's licence at the moment and it means nothing ... If you have a register you can talk about it with your family and they know your views."
Although a presumed consent system, which is used in several other countries with higher donor rates than New Zealand, could well result in more organ donations, families would still be the final decision-makers, she said.
And because there were limited intensive care beds in New Zealand, there was little time to counsel families and go through the issues of donation when it came to a crisis situation.
Last year the health select committee tabled a report in Parliament presenting concern at New Zealand's low organ donation rates and the lack of an adequate system for recording donor preferences.
Since 1993 the New Zealand donor rate has fluctuated between 34 and 46 donors a year, but about 350 people are on waiting lists for organ transplants, mostly for kidneys. People can wait up to 30 months for an organ.
Dr Scott said that rate could only increase with a diabetes epidemic and the likelihood that more people would need kidney donations.
She said there were many issues for Maori and Pacific Island families, but as common recipients of organ donations it was important that community leaders started a debate about the issues of organ donation.
The Health Select Committee is now waiting on a report from the Ministry of Health to build their argument for a register.
Other options raised in the ministry's discussion document include requiring organ and tissue donation to be discussed with all patients entering hospital, changing the law so that a potential donor's wishes must be followed regardless of whether family members give their consent, and continuing with the status quo.
Results of the review and public consultation will provide a basis for new legislation.
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