A teenager with a severe digestive disorder has pleaded for legislation that would force businesses to allow sufferers to use their bathrooms in emergencies.
Wainuiomata girl Nicole Thornton, 14, who suffers from Crohn's disease, which means she needs to use the toilet without warning, appeared before the health select committee today to speak to MPs.
"I truly cannot imagine anything worse than being out with my friends and having an accident in front of them because some store owner wouldn't let me use their toilet," she told MPs.
"Sometimes, you just don't have time to explain."
Crohn's Disease is a chronic inflammation of the bowel which can cause diarrhoea, bleeding and excruciating abdominal pain.
In January 2017 Nicole presented a 3000-strong petition to Parliament seeking a law change that would allow people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and other conditions to be able to use toilets not usually available to the public.
Nicole was accompanied by Kate Montgomery, who uses an ostomy bag after having some of her intestine removed. She outlined her condition and the discomfort and embarrassment of urgently needing a toilet - and being told she could not use a business's staff facilities.
Nicole was also supported by her parents Kerry Thornton and Suz Gibb and fellow IBD sufferers, medical professionals and members of Crohn's and Colitis NZ.
Nicole and Kate received a sympathetic hearing from the committee, which will now consider the request. MBIE officials raised concerns over the cost of compliance for businesses but MPS urged them to consider the needs of a group of people with severe illnesses.
Nicole was inspired by Ally Bain, an Illinois 14-year-old with Crohn's who fought for legally mandated toilet access in the US. The Restroom Access Act, known as Ally's Law, passed in her state in 2005. So far 16 states have passed similar laws.
Ally wrote to Nicole offering support last year.
Crohn's and Colitis New Zealand trustee Richard Stein, a gastroenterologist at Hutt Valley DHB, called Thornton "an amazing young woman".
"She's brave, she's well-spoken and she speaks from the heart," he said.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of inflammatory bowel disease - encompassing Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis - in the world.
• One in 227 New Zealanders has the disease
• Onset is usually between 15 and 35
• About 20 per cent of those affected are children
• It costs the country about $245 million a year