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Minister of Health Prescribes More Pain and Death

Minister of Health Prescribes More Pain and Death

The Government have today tabled their response to the Health Select Committee recommendations on an Organ Donor Register to replace the Driving Licence system.

The Government have rejected all recommendations for a second time.

In November 2003 the Health Select Committee recommended a Donor Register due to many problems with having it on the driving licence. The problems with it on the driving licence include; It is not legally binding, it is not checked in the event of your death, (your family decides irrespective of what is on the licence,) It will cost you $32 to change your mind, It does not allow you to specify which organs you wish to donate, it is not readily or easily updateable, it is not easily accessible.

The idea of a separate organ donor register would mean that people could update their wishes as often as they visited their family doctor, hospital or other medical facility. In the computer age it would mean your wishes would be known wherever you happen to be should the unfortunate ever happen.

The Government rejected the recommendations citing the register as too expensive. (Just how much are lives worth?) The Ministry of Health ‘estimated’ that a donor register would cost in the region of $600,000 per year. Denmark, with a population of 5 million people run a register on around $80,000 per year. Countries of a similar size population also report similar figures. I guess the additional $580,000 per year would be to pay for more ‘grey suits’ at the Ministry?

The idea for a register was then sent back to the Select Committee for a more in-depth consideration. Having taken expert evidence over the past year, again they unanimously voted in favour of a register, only for it to be rejected again…

There are some worrying factors here, both political and medical.

Why did Annette King send it back to the Select Committee when it was quite clear she had already made up her mind that it wasn’t going to happen? Was it a stalling technique? Knowing that by sending it back to the committee it would be tied up for another year.

What is the point of having select committees if the Minister is to take no notice of them?

The Health Select Committee is made up of 11 MP’s, 5 of them are Labour MP’s. They all work together to try and find a solution to the problem in hand. They can call expert witnesses from all over and also receive a briefing from the Ministry of Health. They then make their recommendations; it is much like a court case in practice. In the case of the organ donor register the vote was overwhelming with on abstentions and no minority views. In spite of this the Minister, one person, has rejected the recommendations, not once but twice… In some countries this would be called a dictatorship…

Meanwhile, whilst all this has been going on, two years have passed since my original submissions to Parliament to solve the organ donor shortage. That is two years of death for some on the waiting list, pain and misery for many more and their families as they are the ones caught up with a Minister who is too frightened to challenge her own Ministry and quite happily accepts their word even when they tell her ‘black is white.’

The deaths and misery are not over yet either, the rejection for a register means that it will be aligned to the review of the Human Tissue Act 1964, so it could still be some years yet before a register is in place, assuming of course that it isn’t rejected for a third time…

Ministry of Health officials always wanted the issue of a register tied into the Human Tissue Act, something the select committee dismissed, as there is no reason to tie it into a whole load of irrelevant legislation when a stand alone register could start saving lives now, not at some point in the future when they have gone through all the other aspects of the act. Despite the Ministers’ view that it should not be separate, there is no evidence that it can not be a stand alone register and run parallel to whatever outcomes there are from the review.

Just to keep the organ donor rate down and to further increase the suffering of those in need of a transplant the Minister still has not introduced any welfare assistance for those wishing to be ‘live donors.’ I proposed this originally so that family members and friends could donate their kidneys to a loved one in need without the pressure of financial hardship of taking time of work etc.

In August this year the Minister tried to boost her ratings by announcing that they would be considering welfare assistance for live donors. Nearly four months to the day of that announcement, they have now announced that they are still ‘considering welfare assistance.’ So they still haven’t even got past the ‘considering’ stage yet, let alone start work on it. Why does it take four months to consider? Either they are going to provide it or they are not. It should not even be up for consideration. Live donors go through a lot of tests, medically and mentally to see if they are suitable and even though they are saving the government millions of dollars by getting families and friends off dialysis machines they are expected to pay all their own costs of travel back and forth to hospital for tests, undergo surgery, and lose an income whilst they recover!

Welfare assistance is a start, well that’s if and when it does start. But if you were considering being a live donor then why would you expose yourself to the bureaucratic vagaries of WINZ, when a simple cheque for $10,000 would do the trick, and would be a modest recognition of a very generous act.

The final recommendation by the Select Committee, again rejected, was that the Government should review the funding for the organ donor service to ensure that it would cover community and family education. This I consider imperative. Countries around the world that have high organ donor rates also agree that public awareness and education is imperative to breaking down fears, myths and to keep it foremost in the public mind. New Zealand, the lowest in the Western World for the number of organ donors it has disagrees. Who would you rather believe?

Andy Tookey has been heavily involved in research and in the call for reform in the organ donor system for three years. His website is the most comprehensive and constantly updated organ donor website in Australasia.

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