1602 Australians want you to act on this now
For most Australians, it’s hard to imagine being in an intensive care unit waiting room confronted with the prospect of losing a loved one. For those who do find themselves in this situation, it’s a devastating, harrowing time.
Imagine then, what you would say at this terrible juncture in your life if your loved one died and you were asked: “do you know if they wanted to be an organ and tissue donor?” Do you know what your family and friends’ organ and tissue donation wishes are?
During this time of personal tragedy many say they simply don’t know. That’s not unique to the intensive care unit either, it’s reflected across our community. Forty per cent of Australians do not know their family’s donation wishes.
I’ve had these conversations with patients, and it can be really tough for those families that had not discussed with or known the donation wishes of the deceased. Many, in shock and grief, understandably can’t reach a decision. It can be too hard to comprehend or cope with at that time.
Not many people know that only 1-2% of people who die in hospital can ever become potential organ donors - you have to die in a very particular set of circumstances. This means that it’s a precious few families who will ever be asked this question. Right now, of that small percentage, less than 60% of families will give permission for organ and tissue donation to proceed.
It’s no secret that in Australia we have had low rates of organ donation when compared with the rest of the western world. In the past, every state and territory had a different system, with different resources, different processes. These days, the sector is coordinated, nationally consistent and things are looking up.
Since a $151 million Federal Government national reform package was announced in 2008, donor numbers are on the rise. Earlier this week it was announced that so far this year 416 Australian lives have been saved or improved by donated organs from 141 deceased donors. This represents the highest donation and transplantation outcomes for the same period since national records began. It’s a 19 per cent increase on the same period in 2010.
Last year Australia achieved an historic 309 deceased organ donations and 931 transplant recipients. The 2010 deceased organ donation rate represents a 51 per cent increase on the average of the nine years to 2008 and a 25 per cent increase on the 2009 outcome.
The sustained increase in organ donation in Australia is something that the families of organ and tissue donors should be proud of. It’s an extraordinary thing to see people think of helping others at the most difficult moment of their lives.
Whilst this improvement has been positive there is a very long road ahead. Some of you reading this might be wondering why Australia doesn’t introduce a presumed consent ‘opt out’ system, so I’ll contribute my thoughts on this now.
While some of the world’s best performing countries, like Spain, Belgium and other European countries do operate under an ‘opt out’ system, their success is not attributable to the ‘opt out’ model. It has more to do with the many clinical systems and resources they have in place that ensure that every potential donor is identified and the family of the donor is given the opportunity in a supportive and caring environment to confirm that their loved one wanted to donate and that they support those wishes.
Whether a country operates an opt-out or an opt-in system, the consent of the family is always sought – just like in Australia.
It’s a debate that has raged for many years, and I believe Australia has done its homework and our efforts here are based on what has been shown to work overseas, rather than be distracted by side issues which don’t really make a difference. We believe we have found the right balance between individual and family rights and community need.
Right now there are 1602 Australians waiting for a transplant and to receive a new chance at life.
That’s why I’m urging Punch readers to go home today and tell the people they love their wishes regarding organ and tissue donation. I’m not saying it’s the right decision for everyone. I always encourage people to do their research, find out more and make an informed decision.
To find out the facts and to have your questions about religion and the organ donation process answered, visit www.donatelife.gov.au
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