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An "individualist new-right'' attitude that holds sway in New Zealand is holding back organ donation rates, a University of Otago biomedical ethics authority says.
Prof Grant Gillett was contacted for comment on a Ministry of Health consultation process that seeks to increase New Zealand's low rate of organ donation.
Ideas being floated by the ministry include making it easier for people to change their donor status and a public awareness campaign.
New Zealand's rate of deceased organ donation is considered too low at 11.8 donors per million people.
Prof Gillett supports a shift to an opt-off organ donation system that would involve families in the decision-making process.
He said the political ideology of the Ministry of Health and the Government hindered efforts to foster a different view of organ donation.
"The ministry's got quite an individualist new-right sort of agenda.
"I think it's shared by the Government at large; I think that's the reason why we are encouraged to tolerate the inequalities [in society].''
"It's fundamental to neoliberalism that every individual should be able to be accountable for their own stuff, wrapped up in their own life, and not have dues to others.''
Organ donation should be seen as a normal way to contribute to society, Prof Gillett believed.
"An opt-off system is consistent with the solidarity view of human beings.''
Asked if countries with high economic inequality had lower organ donation rates, Prof Gillett said he did not know.
"To do that you would need to look carefully at Scandinavia.''
Contacted for a response, Dr Eric Crampton, head of research at right-wing think-tank The New Zealand Initiative, said the link between income equality and organ donation seemed "tenuous''.
"America's organ donation rate far exceeds Sweden's and New Zealand's, but Spain beats both. Inequality does not seem to enter into it. If we want more organ donation, we need better incentives around organ donation,'' Dr Crampton said.
Dr Crampton said New Zealand could follow Israel's lead and put willing donors at the front of the queue when they needed an organ themselves.