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Comment: Where did all the organs go…?

Where did all the organs go…?

‘Comment’ by Andy Tookey
2 September 2003

New Zealanders are well known as generous and caring people. So why does New Zealand have the lowest number of Organ Donors in the Western World?

Given that statement, you would think we are a selfish lot by hanging onto all our ‘useful bits’ once we’ve popped our clogs. But that’s not the case, it turns out that 90% of Kiwis agree that organ donation is a good thing; it’s just that they don’t get around to doing anything about it. By that, I don’t mean deliberately dying just to make up the numbers, but by making that important step of discussing their wishes with their family should the unfortunate happen.

Most people I speak to say “I’m an organ donor, I’ve got it on my licence.” If only they knew that there are ‘systems’ out there that will check mate you at any given moment. So, if 1.1 million people in NZ have ticked ‘donor’ on their driving licence why did we have only 38 donors last year?

The most obvious answer is that because you have to be dead first. The problem with this medical technical detail is that it eliminates a fair few people at the outset. Though I have met some people who are still walking around that could be deemed ‘brain dead,’ apparently my perception of them is insufficient to have them whipped off to the nearest hospital for a bit of organ retrieval.

The next requirement is that you need to be in an Intensive Care Unit at the time of your demise, in order that the organs are kept healthy for transplant. Being on a trolley in a hospital corridor waiting for three days to see a specialist, though common and lots of fun, is not a good enough reason to admit yourself into this elite club.

O.K. so you got this far, what’s next? Assuming that you are healthy and didn’t die of anything too serious you may be a possible candidate to save the lives of up to ten other people. You haven’t done anything heroic in all your life and now you are about to depart it, along comes your chance to be a ‘superhero’ by giving the ‘gift of life’ to ten others who would possibly be in the same situation as you if you weren’t a donor.

Now the last, and most difficult hurdle. Do you want to be a donor? “Absolutely” you say, “ I have no need for organs after I’m gone, there are over 400 people out there in dire need of them.” Does anyone know you’re a donor? “Err.. It’s on my driving licence.” Except the LTSA database is not checked to see if you’re a donor, neither is your licence. “The doctors will ask my next of kin!” Last year, they didn’t ask 35 families if they wanted to donate. Do your family know what your wishes are? “ Well I thought putting it on my driving licence was enough, but it’s nothing to do with my family anyway, it’s MY wishes that count!” Wrong again… your wishes do not count. The family are asked what ‘they’ want to do with your bits, irrespective of your wishes. So, in future try not to annoy your relatives too much if you are feeling a bit under the weather.

The moral of the story is that “If you haven’t told your family that you’re an organ donor, your not.”

- Andy Tookey is the promoter of GiveLife New Zealand, a campaign to get the government to reform the organ donor scheme in NZ and to provide the public with the information they need to make an informed decision on organ donation.

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