Most Australians support organ and tissue donation
This wish to help others becomes a reality if Australians learn about organ and tissue donation and make the decision to become a donor. Families also need to know the wishes of the potential donor. This means discussing, understanding and accepting each family member's decision. If families are aware of their deceased loved one's decision about organ and tissue donation, they are more likely to give consent for donation.
Even if you are registered as an organ donor, your family will still be asked to confirm your wishes and give their consent. It's important that they know your wishes.
The chance to save lives
Around 1600 Australians are waiting for a life-transforming transplant. Sadly, people die waiting for the gift of a heart, liver, kidney, lung or pancreas transplant.
For many others, the wait means long weeks or months in hospital or several trips to hospital every week for treatment such as dialysis. For some, it means being attached to an oxygen tank 24 hours a day. One organ and tissue donor can transform the lives of 10 or more people.
Australia's record of successful transplants is among the best in the world. In 2012, 1,052 Australians received transplants from 354 donors. Our challenge is to continue to increase that number - and help those on the waiting list.
Only around 1% of people actually die in hospital in the specific circumstances where organ donation is possible. The circumstances in which you can become a tissue donor are less limited. In recent years in Australia and internationally, strong safety laws and effective health services have reduced the number of people suffering fatal brain injuries. Therefore it is very important to identify all potential donors and support their families to make informed decisions about donation.
We want Australians to discover the facts about organ and tissue donation, to make and register an informed decision about donation and to ask and know family members’ wishes.
In Australia the family will always be asked to confirm the donation wishes of the deceased before donation can proceed.
Who can donate?
- Almost everyone can help others through organ and tissue donation.
- The governing factors are where and how a donor dies and the condition of their organs and tissues
- While your age and medical history will be considered, you shouldn’t assume you’re too young, too old or not healthy enough to become a donor.
- All major religions support organ and tissue donation and transplantation.
- The aged and people with chronic health conditions can be donors. Only a few medical conditions preclude donation of organs.
- People can also donate a kidney or part of their liver while they are still alive, though this is usually restricted to those wanting to transform the life of someone they know.
- A donor's gift and a patient's hopes are in good hands. Australia has a world class reputation for successful transplant outcomes.
A question of timing
The way a person dies determines whether they are able to donate organs and tissues.
Only around 1% of people actually die in hospital in the specific circumstances where organ donation is possible. The circumstances in which you can become a tissue donor are less limited. Therefore it is very important to identify all potential donors and support their families to make informed decisions about donation. Many more people can become eye and tissue donors as tissues can be donated up to 24 hours after death regardless of where death occurred.
A person may be able to donate organs when they have been declared brain dead and are being artificially ventilated in hospital. Brain death is when blood circulation to the brain ceases, the brain stops functioning and dies with no possibility of recovery. A series of tests carried out by two independent and appropriately qualified senior doctors establishes that brain death has occurred.
People can be confused about the difference between brain death and being in a coma.
A patient in a coma is unconscious because their brain is injured in some way, however their brain continues to function and may heal. With brain death, there is no possibility whatsoever that the brain will recover. Medical tests clearly distinguish between brain death and being in a coma.
Organ donation may also be possible after a person’s heart has stopped beating, referred to as cardiac death, however this is less common.
The very nature of these circumstances means there is usually no chance to discuss donation with the person, leaving the decision to the family. It is much easier for the family to make the decision if they know the wishes of their loved one.
Families asked to confirm the organ and tissue donation wishes of a loved one are dealing with loss and grief. Under such circumstances they can be helped by knowing that their family member wished to benefit others.
The Intensive Care Unit team caring for you and the DonateLife Agency Donor Coordinator and Donor Family Support Coordinator give the family as much support as they need during and after the decision to donate.
Families considering organ and tissue donation will also have access to free bereavement counseling.
The DonateLife Donor Coordinator will be the family’s initial point of contact from the time donation is first discussed. They provide the link between the family and the medical team and will help the family after the donation, particularly with arranging a private farewell and/or a viewing of the body, if the family wishes.
The coordinator will contact the donor family with details of support offered in their state or territory. The coordinator can, if the family wishes, provide information on the outcomes of the donation and give details on how to write anonymously to the recipients.