Myths and misconceptions about organ donation discourage potential donors from making the decision to donate organs or tissue after death. Click on a myth to reveal the reality.
I'm already registered. I don't have to do anything more
That's a good start, but you also need to discuss your decision with your family and friends. Even if you are on the Australian Organ Donor Register (or, in some states, you have ticked the box on your driver's licence), donation won't proceed without your family's consent. If your family know your wishes to be an organ donor, they are more likely to give consent. It's also important for you to know your family's wishes.
Read more: Starting the discussion
It's assumed I'm an organ donor unless I opt out
Not true. Australia operates on the ‘opt in' system where you choose whether to be a donor or not. If you have opted out by stating ‘no' on the Australian Organ Donor Register, donation will not proceed. If you have signed ‘yes' on the Register, or not registered at all, your family will still need to give consent.
Read more: Making the Decision to Become an Organ Donor
My family can overrule my decision to be a donor
True. The family is always consulted about organ and tissue donation - if the family does not give consent, donation will not happen. Families rarely overrule a person's wishes if they know what they are. If you wish to be an organ donor, sign ‘yes' on the Australian Organ Donor Register and discuss your decision with your family. It is more likely your family will respect your wishes if they know your decision.
Read more: How can I start the discussion?
Organ donation is against my religion
Most religions support organ and tissue donation as generous acts that benefit people. This includes Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism. If you are not sure whether your religion is supportive, speak to your religious adviser.
Read more: Organ Donation and Your Religion
I'm too old to donate
You're never too old to be a donor. Anyone can donate organs and tissue. People in their eighties have saved the lives of much younger people. Transplant professionals decide which organs and tissues can be used at the time of death after looking at your past medical history, the condition of your organs and their suitability.
I'm too young to donate
You're never too young to be a donor. Anyone can be a donor - young and old. If you are under 16 years you can't register to be a donor, but you can discuss your wishes with your parents.
I'm too unhealthy to be a donor
You can still be a donor even if you drink or smoke, are overweight or have a chronic condition. There's every chance that some of your organs and tissues will be suitable for donation. Only some medical conditions may prevent you from being a donor, such as transmissible diseases like HIV.
I lived in the UK during ‘mad cow disease' so I can't donate organs or tissues
You may still be able to donate your organs but not your tissues.
Doctors won't work as hard to save my life if they know I've decided to become a donor
Not so. Medical staff do everything possible to save lives. Their first duty is to you and saving your life. Organ and tissue donation will only be considered after all efforts fail.
How do they know I am really dead?
Your organs will not be removed until two senior doctors have separately tested that you are brain dead. The clinical tests for brain death establish there is no brain function and no blood flow to the brain. At this point, there is no possibility your brain will ever function again.
Read more: Donation after death
My family will be too traumatised
Because your death is likely to have been sudden, your family will be in shock. It will be difficult for them to make decisions. However, research shows families that make the decision to donate are very glad they did, most saying the person who died would have been happy to have saved other people's lives. It will be easier for your family to make the decision if they know how you feel about it. Your family will be supported by trained DonateLife donor coordinators and counsellors during and after the donation.
Read more: Donor Family Support
I won't be able to have an open casket funeral
Yes you will. Your body will be treated with respect and dignity at all times and your family will be able to view your body and have an open casket if they wish. No one will be able to tell that you have donated your organs and tissues.
Read more: Organ Donation Process
People only need organs because of bad lifestyle choices
Many people have an inherited genetic condition, a severe illness or disease that will kill them, often at a young age. Common genetic conditions are cardiomyopathy (which affects the heart), cystic fibrosis (the lungs) and biliary atresia (the liver). Corneal transplants restore sight to people following a disease or damage to their eyes. Heart valves are used to repair congenital defects in young children and replace defective valves due to disease such as rheumatic fever, degeneration and infection.
I don't need to donate because thousands of others do
Few people die in such a way that donation is possible. Organ donors need to die in hospital where their body can be kept on a ventilator until the organs can be donated. In 2011, there were 337 deceased organ donors. In some cases, families do not give consent for donation to take place because they did not know the wishes of their deceased family member.
Read more: About Organ and Tissue Donation
My family will have to pay if I donate my organs
Not true. There is never any charge for donating organs and tissues. Depending on the hospital, your family might be charged for the cost of all final efforts to save your life and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Your family will be responsible for your funeral expenses.
My family won't know if I saved the lives of others
Not true. If your family wishes it, the DonateLife donor coordinator who assists your family will stay in contact. They can provide information about which organs and tissues were transplanted, how the recipients are faring and limited information about the recipients. Donor families and recipients can write to each other anonymously through the donor coordinator, but the law says the identity of donors and recipients cannot be shared.
My organs and tissue will be used for research
Organ donation is about helping save or improve other people's lives. Donated tissues and organs will never be used for medical research unless explicit written permission is given by your family. If any organ or tissue that has been donated is unable to be transplanted and your family are not comfortable donating to a research program, they can choose to have the organ or tissue returned to their loved one's body or respectfully disposed.
The rich and famous get priority
Not true. All donations and transplants are performed by specialised teams of clinicians in the Australian public health system. Everyone is assessed in the same way. Celebrities receive media attention when they receive a transplant, but they are treated no differently from anyone else.
Australia has strict ethical guidelines about allocation of organs. Allocation is based on several factors, including urgency, the organ match and how much the recipient will benefit. Other considerations include the length of time on the official waiting list, and access to the relevant hospital. A person's identity or social status is not taken into consideration.
Read more: About Transplantation.