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Greenleaf, Graham --- "Complaint - Organ donor information (NZ)" [1995] PrivLawPRpr 108; (1995) 2(9) Privacy Law & Policy Reporter 171

Complaint - Organ donor information (NZ)

NZ Privacy Commissioner Case Note 6656, October 1995

Disclosure of information regarding organ donor suitability ­ security safeguards ­ rr 5 and 11 Health Information Privacy Code 1994.

The complainant had a blood test at a hospital to establish whether she would be a suitable organ donor for a family member (the recipient). The result showed that she was a suitable match. The recipient was told by the physician of the complainant's suitability prior to the complainant being told. The complainant had not authorised the physician to disclose this information to the recipient and believed that the physician had breached r 11 of the Health Information Privacy Code 1994 (the Code) which places limits on the disclosure of health information. The physician also gave the recipient a letter for the complainant containing the results of her blood tests to pass on to her. The complainant alleged that this was a breach of r 5 of the Code which is concerned with the security of health information.

The respondent hospital admitted the recipient had been told that the complainant was a suitable match but this information was only very general information. Details of her blood type and other medical information were not disclosed to the recipient. The hospital said the physician concerned believed that by agreeing to have the blood test the complainant had consented to the disclosure to the recipient of her suitability as a donor. The physician said he had given the recipient the letter for the complainant because the recipient did not have the complainant's address with him.

Following discussions with the Commissioner's office, the hospital apologised to the complainant for the considerable distress the disclosure caused her. It gave an assurance that, in future, physicians would not disclose the status of a potential organ donor to a recipient without the donor's written consent. The hospital also undertook to ensure that potential donors were contacted directly and not through the recipient. The complainant accepted that the complaint was resolved by the hospital's apology and assurance, and the Commissioner discontinued the investigation.

Edited from the Commissioner's Case Notes.

Graham Greenleaf


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