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PhD examines ways to increase organ donation


18 January 2008

PhD research examines ways to increase organ donation

Victoria University PhD graduate Cordelia Thomas has devised a legal framework that might make people more willing to donate organs for transplantation and medical research.

“New Zealand has a very low rate of organ donation. Research shows that in 2006, less than 30 New Zealanders who died donated their organs. Although donor numbers have increased slightly since then, there hasn’t been a dramatic change,” says Dr Thomas.

“My legal framework argues that human body parts should be treated as property once they have been separated from a living person, or once the person has died.”

“Most people believe that the one thing they own above all else is their own body and that involvement in organ donation and medical research should recognise and respect the fact that many people retain a connection with body parts even after they are excised.”

She argues that people would be more likely to donate their organs if their values were respected. “This could help save lives and allow more medical research to take place.”

“In the property structure I propose, a person can specify their wishes during their lifetime, or if they do not specify their wishes the law would set out a priority list of decision-makers and who would become the owner of the property.”

“The property structure is much less limited than the consent system which is currently before parliament.”

“Many commentators have argued that property interests in body parts will inevitably lead to commercialisation, that is, the sale of organs but, it is possible to devise a structure which would control this if necessary.”

Dr Thomas, the senior legal adviser for the New Zealand Bioethics Council, continues to work in areas closely related to her research. “I have recently been researching neuroscience and criminal responsibility. I prepared a submission on the Human Tissue Bill and I am currently analysing the changes made by the health select committee to the Bill. My current project relates to pre-birth testing.”


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