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This article is focused on New Zealand law and explains issues from a Common law perspective.

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How to donate your organs for medical purposes within NZ

How do I express the intention to donate my organs?

A request from you that your body or organs be used for medical purposes within New Zealand should be in writing. Usually it would be either made in your will or identified on your driver's licence..

It is possible to make an oral declaration of your wish provided there are two witnesses present. It is best that this method should be used only if your health renders you incapable of making a written declaration.

Making the decision

The first step is of course for you to decide for certain that you do wish to donate your body or organs. The decision will have emotional implications for your next of kin. It is therefore best that you consider these people and, if at all possible, discuss the issue with them.

Inform the appropriate people of your decision

If you decide to express your wish to donate your body or organs in your will, it is advisable that you inform your family members and the executor of your will so that they are aware of your wishes and can ensure that they are carried out.

Also, the time-frame in which your organs may be of use after your death is limited and requires prompt action. Therefore those who will have the authority after your death to donate your body or organs need to be aware of your wishes in advance.

Donations to medical schools

If you wish to donate your body or organs to medical science or education, it is best that you contact your nearest medical school, which will be situated at one of the universities. It may be that your body is not suitable or that the medical school does not require your donation. The school will tell you whether they request your donation and the procedures that you will need to follow.

Donations to hospitals

Hospitals prefer to receive and use donations that have the support and consent of the donor's next of kin. Therefore, if your next of kin do not agree with you donating your organs, they should notify the appropriate hospital staff of their objection. In these situations it is usual for the hospital staff to follow the wishes of the next of kin.

What if I change my mind?

After having made the appropriate provisions for donating your body or organs, it may be that you change your mind. If so, there are a number of steps you should take, depending on how your original wish was expressed.

The first step should be ensure that your change of mind is communicated to your next kin and to the executor of your will.

If your wish is expressed on your driver's licence you will need to contact the Land Transport Authority as soon as possible. They will issue a new licence reflecting this change. Because there will be a delay between your change of mind and when you receive your new licence, it is advisable that you also draft and sign a written statement revoking your earlier declaration.

If your wish was expressed in your will, you should contact your lawyer as soon as possible and instruct him or her to change your will so that it reflects your new wishes. This will be done by a signed and witnessed "codicil" (see How to change your will).

If you die before you have time to change the document in which the earlier instruction was expressed, and the person who is in charge of your estate has reason to believe you changed your mind, he or she can recognise this and carry out your wishes.

How old do I have to be to donate my organs?

Generally people under 18 are not authorised to donate their organs. However, this may be allowed in exceptional circumstances where the donation is necessary for a family member.

Cautionary notes
  • Should you change your mind about donating your body or organs, it is essential that as soon as possible you change the document in which you make your original instructions, notify all informed people, and destroy any documentation of your earlier wish.

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