Garth George: Onward Christian organ donors

By Garth George

THE Waikato bloke who early this month offered on TradeMe to sell one of his kidneys for $250,000 had his advertisement deleted promptly because selling human organs is illegal.

And so it should be.

In this mercenary age, the ramifications of allowing such a trade don't bear thinking about.

However, it seems that as a nation we are disinclined to offer our body parts to others if we should die in circumstances in which our organs could be harvested for transplantation.

New Zealand's organ donation rate remains among the lowest in the world, with just 38 deceased donors last year, The same as the previous year and unchanged from a decade earlier.

New Zealand had only 8.7 deceased organ donors per million people in 2010, compared with 13.5 per million in Australia and 16.4 in Britain.

Latest figures from Organ Donation New Zealand, which co-ordinates deceased organ donations, show there were 174 transplant operations using organs from live and deceased donors last year.

A total of 38 deceased donors contributed organs to 118 transplant operations last year, including 56 kidney, 34 liver, 13 lung, 12 heart and three pancreas transplants.

But at the start of this year up to 500 patients were waiting for kidneys, 19 for livers, 10 each for hearts and lungs, and six for pancreases.

This was in spite of Health Minister Tony Ryall announcing $4 million in extra organ donation funding, including $2 million to train intensive care professionals on identifying potential donors and giving greater support to their families.

Only intensive care patients with non-survivable brain injuries can become deceased donors, this is a small proportion of the 1200 intensive care patients who die in hospitals each year.

In a land in which so many people are concerned about recycling, I wonder why that principle hasn't extended to recycling body parts, for that is what transplants do.

To my way of thinking that is no different to stripping a crashed motor vehicle of its useable parts, attaching them to other vehicles to make them perform better, and discarding the chassis and bodywork.

While I live my body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but when I die and the Spirit departs, all that is left is an empty shell.

I couldn't care less what is done with it, except that it would please me if any part of it could be used to improve and/or lengthen the life of someone else.

Even if medical students want to use my carcass to practise their surgical or pathological skills, they will be welcome to it.

After all, a new and perfect body awaits me on resurrection day.

I know that in some cultures - Maori, for instance - the taking of body parts is just not on, and I accept that absolutely. Nevertheless, the leaders of these cultures might well be encouraged to consider modifying traditional belief and practice.

This is surely an area in which our churches, too, could take the lead, as the Catholic Church does in Spain where the donor rate is an astounding 33.8 for every million people.

Encouraging Christians to make their empty bodies available for organ retrieval and transplant, or while still alive offering kidneys and bits of liver to those who will suffer and die without them, could be a ministry in itself.

There are few more sacrificial and selfless acts than that. Jesus told us he desired of us mercy rather than sacrifice but in this case Christians could exhibit both, and set an example for others to follow.

In the meantime, how many more New Zealanders will die from lack of a transplant before anything effective is done to set up an acceptable and efficient system to boost the number of organ donations?

garth.george@hotmail.com

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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