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Organ Donor Law Needs to be Passed


Organ Donor Law Needs to be Passed

This Wednesday, Parliament is set to debate the Human Tissue (Organ Donation) Amendment Bill. The Bill, if passed into law would prevent family members from overturning the wishes of a registered donor.

Andy Tookey of Organ Donation reform group GiveLife NZ who co-authored the Bill with Dr. Jackie Blue MP explains why he believes this Bill should be passed into law.


Autonomy is a concept found in moral, political, and bioethical philosophy. it refers to the capacity of a rational individual to make an informed, uncoerced decision. In medicine, respect for the autonomy of patients is considered obligatory for doctors and other healthcare professionals.

However, in New Zealand autonomy dies with the patient. You can tick the donor box on your driving licence and tell your family that you have done so, but this by no means will make you a donor should the unfortunate happen.

It may be true that should your family know what your prior wishes were they are more likely to follow those wishes. But when you are going for your driving licence, especially your first, do you rush home and tell your family that you have just signed up as a donor?

In 2004 a National newspaper conducted a survey and discovered that most people could not remember whether they had put donor on their own driving licence let alone for them to know what was on another family members licence. To illustrate the point the newspaper decided to start the survey by asking the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, and leader of the opposition, Don Brash. Both had to dig out their driving licences to check what they had previously put on them.

Many people may not have put ‘donor’ on their licence anyway, as the application form only allows you to specify being a donor or not. ‘All or nothing.’ During my travels I have met a lot of people who ticked the ‘no’ box because of this reason. They were happy to donate their heart, lungs, kidneys and liver but were squeamish about their eyes. As there is no option on the form to specify which parts they wished to donate they invariably ticked ‘no’

This is all academic anyway, because even though the majority of people are aware that the driving licence is a legal document, they are unaware that the donor section of the licence is the one part that is not legally binding. The reason behind this is that it is not considered to be ‘informed consent.’ Consequently, in the event of an untimely death the donor status on you driving licence is not even checked – Your family are asked what they want to do.

It is an incredible emotional burden to place on a family at a time that they have just been told of the sudden death of a loved one to then ask them to then make a decision whether to donate that loved one’s organs or not. One would expect the initial reaction at such a time of stress to say ‘no’. There is no second chance as doctors only ask once.

The deceased person may have held strong beliefs in helping to save the lives of, and improving the quality of life for up to ten other people after their own death. After all when you die there are only three things that can be done with your organs. Bury them, cremate them or donate them and save lives…

It is a myth to believe that it is just next-of-kin can veto your wish to be a donor. It could be a relative that you have not seen for many years. It is not a majority vote either. If just one person disagrees with your wish to be a donor then you will not become one.

These actions go counter to what the majority of New Zealanders want. If they have made a decision to be a donor, or conversely not to be a donor, they want their wishes to be respected. Just because they have died, they want their right to what they had in life for autonomy to carry on to a right of autonomy in death. They are also likely not to want to cause additional distress to their families by placing the burden of making a decision on whether they be a donor or not, or even the possibility of families arguing with each other as to whether they should be donor, particularly if that person had already made their own decision prior to their death.

Doctors are caught up in the middle of all this, and understandably would not want to argue with the wishes of a distraught family, so of course would want to take the easiest option. Ironically, the current law does not say that doctors have to ask family permission. The doctor’s have taken this approach upon themselves and then complain when they are caught up in the consequences.

One would expect that the doctors involved with organ donation would welcome this law change that gives clarity and legal status to the potential donor’s wishes?

Not so. Should the Organ Donor Amendment Bill pass on votes in Parliament this week the doctor’s have said that they will vehemently oppose it. They have recently gone even further and said that if the bill should become law they will not abide by it and will continue to go with the family wishes.

I believe it will be a sad day for New Zealand if these ‘Transplant Terrorists’ Tactics’ from a small minority of people are allowed to prevail over the rights and wishes of the majority of New Zealanders.

Not only will this bill uphold your right to decide to be a donor or not, it will help to save the lives of those who are dying on the transplant waiting list. Last year there were just 29 organ donors in New Zealand. The lowest in the Western World, and on par with Peru and Costa Rica.

The family of the patient in the Intensive Care Unit will be deeply distraught at the loss of their loved one and at this time of emotional upheaval, they will not be able to comprehend, and neither should they…, that on a hospital ward a few floors above them will be another family who will be equally distraught that their child will now die in a short time, and will possibly be buried next to the person who wished to help prevent that from happening.


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