An effective way to increase our organ donation rates

The Minister of Health has just announced his intention to see renewed efforts put in to increasing our organ donation rates in NZ. His media release suggests that the Ministry of Health plans to…

raise awareness by standardising the way hospitals identify potential donors and how donation is discussed with families.

And suggests that…

we could better support the hospital team is to improve the driver licence system so medical staff are informed if someone has indicated they would like to become a donor.

I am sceptical! For over a decade organ donation campaigner Andy Tookey has worked tirelessly to see us change our organ donation strategy. It is abundantly clear that the current Driver’s License system does not work. It does not work for two reasons:

  1. because there is no data alignment between driver’s licenses and hospital wards, where patients are on life support, and therefore potential donors
  2. because regardless of what you indicate on your license your family have the legal power to veto your intention, and surgeons will happily tell you that they WILL NOT HARVEST ORGANS AGAINST THE WISHES OF FAMILY regardless of any change to the law.

So what should happen?

I believe a TV driven public health education programme should be designed that encourages families to talk about the opportunity to donate organs should a tragedy happen to one of them. Then the opportunity to register on line, the desire to be a donor that includes the contact details of the relevant relatives who understand your wishes.

Imagine this… the point where clinicians are explaining to a family the fact that a life-support machine keeping a loved one alive needs to be turned off, that they could sensitively bring up the fact that they are aware that patient has registered as a donor and could then identify the family members who are listed on the register as having had this discussion with the donor and can support their intention.

It may not stop every family from vetoing the suggestion but would surely raise the chances of a donation if family understood it was their desire and that someone present in the room can back give testimony to the fact that this was in deed their wish.

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