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Friday, 28 September 2012

A deadly secret

Published in the New Law Journal, vol 162, 28 September 2012, p 1230

New Zealand, like the United Kingdom, has a fairly comprehensive national health system, although the system does not share the same name and is in some respects perhaps not as comprehensive. Being a far smaller community the opportunities and resources for medical specialisation are necessarily fewer, for example. Nevertheless, it has long been the expectation of New Zealanders that they will receive health care on the basis of need, not ability to pay. Any identifiable exceptions to that rule over the years have always generated strident public debate.

So it was in the mid-1980s, when the government decided it would no longer pay for heart transplants in New Zealand hospitals. Instead, grants would be made available for patients to have the operations performed in Australia. To say that the measure was controversial would be an understatement. It certainly would have come as a painful shock to one Mr Tucker, a patient on the transplant waiting list at the time.

Worse was to follow for Mr Tucker. The grant subsequently offered by the government was nowhere near enough to pay for the necessary treatment in Sydney. Sympathetic newspapers picked up his plight and a national fundraising campaign was held. The campaign appeared to be successful and he travelled to Australia to await his operation.

In the meantime, however, the rumour mill had been fed some grist. It turned out that Mr Tucker had an unsavoury past, having served time in jail for indecent assault. Unsurprisingly, public sympathy for his plight started to evaporate, along with some of the promised funds for his operation.

With his life now imperilled, both by the lack of funds for the operation and the extra stress brought on by the adverse publicity, Mr Tucker applied to the High Court for an injunction restraining further publication of his past convictions.   Continue reading here.

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