Doctors partly to blame for organ shortage, group says
13 September 2005
Doctors are partly to blame for New Zealand's low level of organ donations, a patient advocate group says.
This week it was reported that transplant patients were getting organs from old and diseased donors as a chronic shortage bites.
With fewer healthy young people dying on the roads and about 400 people waiting for organs, doctors said they were being forced to use organs they would have rejected 10 years ago.
However, GiveLife New Zealand spokesman Andy Tookey said it was "ironic" that doctors were complaining about having to use old and diseased organs, "when it's down to them that we have a shortage".
Mr Tookey, who set up the lobby group to raise awareness of the need for organ donations after his baby daughter was diagnosed with a deadly liver disease, said doctors' groups had been doing "everything in their power" to stop changes to the present system.
This month the Government announced plans to establish an organ donor register to ensure people who wished to be donors would have their wishes respected after death.
According to committee reports of the Human Tissue Act meetings released to Mr Tookey's group under the Official Information Act, every member of the Organ Donor Service and transplant surgeons on the committee had voted for no change to the present system.
"We have been doing it their way for 20 years and it hasn't worked: we have the lowest rate of donors in the western world," he said.
Furthermore, in more than 50 per cent of cases, the wishes of donors were vetoed by their families after their deaths, Mr Tookey said.
Last year, 40 donors supplied organs for 114 people, but the families of a further 62 potential donors refused to give permission for their organs to be harvested.
Mr Tookey said many people had no idea that their wishes could be over-ridden by others.
"They think that if it's written in their driver's license, they've done their part."
Under the present system, would-be organ donors tick a box on their drivers' license forms. But the system only allows for a simple "yes or no".
Mr Tookey said more people would be willing to be donors if they could specify which organs they would like to donate.
"I've spoken to many people who said they would be happy to do it as long as no one took their eyes.
"People are squeamish about eyes - even non-religious people seem to have this thing about them being windows to the soul."
However, doctors have resisted the Government's plans for an organ donor register.
The Kidney Foundation too said yesterday that a register would be hard to maintain and end up wasting money that would be better used in public education.
Mr Tookey said he had been pushing for three years for a public awareness campaign - but the medical profession was reluctant.
"They say it would be better for people to talk about it with their families; but how will they know to talk about it with their families if they don't know it's an issue?"
Under the present legislation, anyone "with an interest" in the deceased could object to an organ donation, he said.
"It doesn't have to be next-of-kin: your bank manager could stop you being a donor."
Public statements by some surgeons that even if the law were changed to privilege donors' wishes over their families', they would still accept the families wishes were "extremely arrogant", Mr Tookey said.
"They are saying they would break the law because they know best - they have higher morals than everyone else."
Mr Tookey said New Zealand's rules were unnecessarily restrictive in other ways, such as only allowing donations from brain-dead patients not patients who had died from a heart-attack, for instance.
back to top