Organ donation may not be an easy topic of conversation, but it could be one of the most important you’ll ever have – with the potential to positively impact the lives of several people.
In 2017, the lives of 1,675 Australians were transformed by organ donation, according to statistics from Donate Life. A further 9,600 people benefited from eye and tissue donation.
Why become a donor?
While this is great, around 1400 Australians are still currently waiting for a transplant. Another 11,000 are on dialysis and could benefit from a donated kidney.
Donation not only helps the person who receives the transplant but also their family, explains Chris Thomas, the CEO of Transplant Australia. “The family members who have sat by their [loved one’s] bedside and hoped and prayed for a miracle and the miracle arrives in the form of a phone call to say that … there’s a transplant organ available.
“Someone has made that decision based on their values to help others and leave a legacy behind – giving a gift to other people.”
Donation in Australia
A growing understanding of the importance of organ donation has led to doubling of donation rates in the last 10 years.
“Improved hospital systems with consistent national triggers have helped ensure that no potential donors are missed. Most importantly, improving the conversations with potential donor families has resulted in significant changes,” Thomas says. “There’s a professional, compassionate, empathetic conversation that’s had with the potential donor family so that they are fully supportive of the outcome.”
Figures from Donate Life show that 69 percent of Australians are willing to donate their organs and/or tissues when they die. However, only 33 percent are registered as donors.
The national consent rate to donation is 59 percent. But when someone has registered as a donor, that figure rises to 90 percent.
How to register
Registering as an organ donor is simple. Visit donatelife.gov.au to register, then have that conversation with your loved ones.
While 71 percent of Australians believe it’s important to discuss whether they want to be a donor with their family or partner, only half have done so.
“The last place you want your family to find out that you had wished to be an organ donor is in the intensive care unit of a major teaching hospital,” Thomas says. “It’s a very confronting and emotional situation.”
Thomas explains that families don’t get much notice that they might become a donor family. They get an urgent call because their loved one has had an accident or brain injury and “within 24 to 48 hours they’re making a decision that will have a significant and lasting impact upon five to 10 other people.
“The knowledge that you wanted to be a donor makes the decision of the family that much easier.”
For the 36 percent of Australians who feel confident their loved ones are willing to be a donor, 93 percent say they would uphold their wishes.
Thomas explains the next challenge is getting as many people as possible to register. While Australia is recognised as a world leader for successful transplant surgery, there’s still a way to go with donation. If our consent rate rose to 70 percent, Australia would be in the top 10 performing countries.
A major barrier is the difficulty in thinking about dying. “We know that people don’t make wills; people don’t plan well enough for the future,” Thomas says. “In a sense, donation gets wrapped up in all of that.
“And while thinking about having your organs removed and going to someone else can be confronting, it helps to remember that when a decision needs to be made, sadly nothing will bring you back from the medical state you are in,” Thomas says.
It’s only then that “you can be involved in something which is really inspiring and something which will go on to save many other lives.
“It really is the gift that keeps on giving.”