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Low rate of organ donation ensures long transplant queues

NZ’s low rate of organ donation ensures long transplant queues, says UC lecturer

October 26, 2012

New Zealand’s very low rates of organ donation help ensure that the queue for transplants remains very long, a University of Canterbury (UC) economics lecturer said today.

Figures released show New Zealand has the lowest rate of organ donation in the Western world aside from Greece and Mexico. The government said in June it would give $4 million over four years to boost donations.

UC lecturer Dr Eric Crampton said if New Zealand were able to increase its transplant rate it would save lives and reduce costs on the health system.

``It is great that New Zealand is exploring ways of improving the system. But we probably should be looking to more innovative alternatives.”

“Unfortunately, moral posturing by our country’s bio-ethicists has done harm in preventing the adoption of alternatives proven to save lives in other countries.’’

Roughly 600 New Zealanders are waiting for organ transplants, mostly for kidneys. Last year there were 57 live donors - mostly friends and family - but just 38 deceased donors, 36 of whom donated following brain death.

According to 2010 Organ Donation New Zealand figures, of 18 developed countries, only Greece and Mexico had lower deceased organ donation rates than New Zealand, which had 8.7 donors per one million people. Spain had the highest rate at 32.

“There are a few reasons for New Zealand's relatively low organ donation rate. To start with, we don't have great awareness campaigns around organ donation.”

“To be eligible to be an organ donor, you have to be in an ICU bed when you die. Because the driver's licence scheme does not constitute informed consent, doctors feel the need to seek explicit family permission for organ donation at what is the worst possible time for families to be making that kind of decision. So it's no surprise that half of families asked decline that the deceased's organs be made available for transplant,’’ Dr Crampton said.

In contrast to New Zealand’s system, where the deceased’s wishes to be an organ donor can be overturned by family and friends, Spain’s high organ donation rates are encouraged by a system that presumes that the deceased agreed to be an organ donor unless he or she had previously registered an objection.

Israel’s priority system, which encourages organ donation by prioritising organ donors on the transplant wait list, has substantially increased the number of people in Israel willing to be organ donors.

Increased training to help intensive care unit nurses in dealing with traumatised families and encourage their consent to organ donation is a great first step and so are moves to compensate living donors for a greater proportion of their incurred costs of donation, but more fundamental change is needed to ensure donors’ wishes are respected and to increase donation rates, Dr Crampton said.


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