Friday 29 October 2010

Tapu and organ donation

Te Ahi Kaa, Radio New Zealand's Maori affairs program, recently took on organ donation.

Maori organ donation rates are, at least anecdotally, very low. The usual story is that the body is seen as sacred and inviolable. Consequently, donating organs is not particularly popular. Maori often receive donor organs, thanks in part to higher diabetes rates. Someone weighing up whether to violate tapu to receive a donation will put fairly high weight on the risks of dying if they forgo the donation; someone deciding whether to donate faces a lower opportunity cost for acting in accordance with preferred beliefs.

Te Ahi Kaa's report is rather nice, highlighting divergent expert Maori beliefs about how tapu relates to organ donation and the experiences of Maori organ recipients.
When it comes to life or death Pou Temara (nō Ngai Tūhoe) believes customary Māori beliefs and practices should be set aside. He uses stories of Maui, the bonding of Māori and Ngarara, and his experience talking with other experts on tikanga Māori to explain his position.

In her role as Cultural Advisor to the Auckland District Health Board Naida Glavish (nō Ngāti Hine, Ngāti Whatua) finds herself challenging what she sees as myths which surround the issue of organ donation. She often finds that she has to convince the Māori she’s dealing with that the unauthorised removal of organs from bodies which occurred twenty years ago, no longer takes place. She talks with Justine Murray about how traditional Māori concepts collide with present day Māori health realities.

When Barry Williams (nō Taranaki whanui) learned he was sick and required a new liver he experienced a range of emotions as he remembered his Nanny’s warnings about the sacredness of the body. It was the same for Eva Haenga (nō Ngāti Pōrou) who acknowledges it was smoking cigarettes that attributed to her bilateral lung transplant. She reflects on the journey from illness to post-surgery twelve years after her original diagnosis.

In the past year Māori television presenter Te Hamua Nikora (nō Ngāti Pōrou) has faced a range of health problems that has made him re-evaluate his stance on organ donation.
Hopefully the reporting will help to encourage greater donation rates.

HT: Darian, who reckons a clear system of presumed consent could be put in place without offending cultural sensitivities if it were highly advertised with easy opt-out. LifeSharers remains my preferred policy option as it makes donation (or failing to opt-out) dominant strategy. But I'll take any move in the right direction.

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