Health Minister Jonathan Coleman says a culture change, not strict consent rules, is needed to lift organ donation rates in New Zealand.

The Ministry of Health released a consultation paper yesterday, which made a series of proposals to increase the country's organ donation rate. At 11.8 donors per million, it is low by international standards.

Campaigners had called for bold changes, such as a register for donors or possibly even binding consent, which prevented families from overturning a relative's wish to donate. Those suggestions were not adopted by the ministry.

Dr Coleman said advice had consistently shown that a register on its own would not make a significant difference to donation rates.


"It's about changing the culture around organ donation," he said.

"In countries where it's been higher there's been a far stronger culture around information sharing and people knowing about organ donation way before the time comes."

In its consultation paper, the ministry said doctors were uncomfortable with any system that potentially overruled a family's decisions about removing organs.

"In the past, where a binding register has been proposed in New Zealand, clinicians have strongly objected to taking donor organs against a family's wishes."

The ministry wanted to make it easier for people to change their donor status on their driver licence and access information.

People should be able to change their status at a GP appointment, or while getting a warrant of fitness or new car registration, the ministry said.

Organ donation campaigner Andy Tookey said even it the driver licence system was strengthened, it would still be a "poor man's register". It would never amount to informed consent, so doctors would never take notice of it, he said.

The ministry was critical of the current agency, Organ Donation New Zealand, saying it did not have "a clear focus on increasing donation rates".