Organs are simply not conventional dinner conversation unless you're eating steak and kidney pie or calves fry and bacon. We barely spare a thought for how our body works until it doesn't.
This is something though that you are brought face-to-face with every time you renew or update your driver's license.
Question 4 asks whether you would like to be an organ donor or not.
Statistics, I have seen quoted, suggest that our opt-in rate is a little under 50% which is higher than I thought it might be considering there is little or no easily accessible official information to help us decide. The actual number of donors who end up in a situation to offer their organs is around 45 people per annum.
It took me a few emails and trolling the internet to start to answer the questions I had.
Let me signpost 3 resources to help you. The first is the Statement of Death and Organ Donation (pdf) from the Australia New Zealand Intensive Care Society, another is a website called Give Life NZ that has it's own FAQs, and the last is Organ Donation NZ's FAQ.
Here is a 10-point summary of what I found out:
- There is no legal definition in New Zealand for death.
In New Zealand, death and organ donation are covered by the Human Tissue Act 2008, which uses the words ‘satisfied… that the individual concerned is dead’ without statutory definition. *
- We can donate heart or heart valves, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas, skin and eye tissue subject to medical tests and matching needs. A person's prior general health also dictates what may be used.
- Checking 'Yes' on your driver's license form is only an indication that you want to be recognised as someone who would consider organ donation. Presently this is not interpreted as implicit consent. No particular organs are stipulated.
- At present only organs from people who end up brain dead in the intensive care unit can be used.
- There is a series of stages one may pass through in the dying process. Where a person is at determines what they may donate.
Dying is a process rather than an event. The determination and certification of death indicate that an irrevocable point in the dying process has been reached, not that the process has ended. *
- It is your family that make the final whether or not to allow organ donation and sign the consent. Any operations are usually completed within 6 - 12 hours after death is pronounced so they don't interfere with any bereavement plans. [No anesthetic is used as a person who is brain dead can not feel.]
- Two doctors must run through tests to determine death. I'll spare you the specifics as they are in the ANZICS document. It is after the second doctor declares that a patient is brain dead that the official time/date of death is recorded. [It seems that family are often allowed to be at these examinations on the understanding or with the guidance of a liaison who will explain the process.]
- "There is no documented case of a person who fulfils the preconditions and criteria for brain death ever subsequently developing any return of brain function." *
- Organ Donation NZ co-ordinate the surgical transplant team (independent of the ICU team), the matching with a compatible recipient, and the subsequent after donation support a family may need.
- Your body will not appear disfigured if organs are removed. It will have stitches like a normal operation.
If the standards of care are abided by, and people could genuinely benefit from a mortal tragedy, it seems logical to check 'Yes' on your driver's license. You don't have to wait until you are filling out another paper form, simply phone the NZTA to have it changed on the license register 0800 822 422.
To be honest, I am dubious about the state-funded medical system at the very best of times, so that doesn't help at all.
Vega said something though that I am mulling over, when I told her what I was contemplating ... "Mum, you are always helping people so I think you would want to." She may just sway my decision.
* The ANZICS Statement on Death and Organ Donation, Edition 3.2, 2013.