Would you accept a life-saving transplant if you needed it? Would you want your loved ones to accept an organ or tissue donation if it would save their life?
If you answered yes, have you said yes to becoming an organ or tissue donor and registered? Or discussed it with your family?
What is organ and tissue donation?
Most commonly “organ and tissue donation involves removing organs and tissue from someone who has died (a donor) and transplanting them into someone who, in many cases, is very ill or dying (a recipient).”*
Living donations are also possible and are most commonly donations of a kidney or part of a liver. In these cases, the living donor is most likely to be a family member or close friend of the recipient.
What can be donated?
Organs that can be donated include:
• Pancreas islet
Tissues that can be donated include:
• heart valves and other heart tissue
• blood veins
• parts of the eye
Age no barrier
Being an organ and tissue donor is not just restricted to young healthy people. People in their 70s and 80s have saved the lives of others through organ and tissue donation.
While age and medical history will be considered, no one should assume they are too old or unhealthy to become a donor. Every potential donor is assessed on an individual basis.
If the circumstances are right, while still alive, older people can also potentially be a live femoral head donator. It’s where the head of the femur is retrieved as part of a total hip replacement.
Important to join the official Donor Register
With over 1,800 Australians currently on the organ transplant waiting list, and an additional 12,000 people on dialysis who might benefit from a kidney transplant, it’s important that people join the Donor Register and have the conversation with loved ones.
While some people think organ donation is covered by their drivers’ license (these registers no longer exist), can be covered by their Advanced Care Directive, or their family can decide at the time, it is essential that you are on the official donation register with DonateLife, the Australian Government Organ and Tissue Authority.
Fewer than 1% of people who die in hospital can become an organ donor as there are specific circumstances where organ donation is possible. Most of these rare deaths are sudden and unexpected with the patient dying in a hospital Emergency Department or Intensive Care Unit on a ventilator. Because of this low number, it’s important to optimise every potential organ and tissue donation by having the conversation with your loved ones.
Families need to know about organ and tissue donation wishes
Organ and tissue donation can only proceed with the approval of the family. It’s the family who confirms the decision to donate so it’s important that families know each other’s donation wishes. This means having that potentially difficult conversation with your parents, partner, siblings or children. DonateLife has produced a fact sheet on “How to have the discussion about organ and tissue donation.”
Families who are considering donation are provided with dedicated support from DonateLife Donor Family Support Coordinators, whether or not donation proceeds.
A popular misconception is that patient care can be compromised by a decision to donate organs or tissues. DonateLife says this is not the case and the website says, “the quality of care for a potential donor at the end of his or her life, and the wishes of their family, is always the foremost consideration of those involved, and is never compromised by the potential for organ and tissue donation.” Other misconceptions are addressed here – https://www.donatelife.gov.au/about-donation/myths-and-misconceptions
The registration process is simple and literally only takes a minute or two. There are four ways to register:
- Via the DonateLife website – https://www.donatelife.gov.au/join-register (here you can also check if you’re already registered).
- Via MyGov – the Australian Federal Government portal using your existing account – https://my.gov.au/
- Via the Medicare app – https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/subjects/express-plus-mobile-apps#medicare
- Via printed form – download and post a new registration of update details form. This will obviously take a little longer than the digital methods. – https://www.servicesaustralia.gov.au/individuals/forms/nh007df
It doesn’t hurt to also reference it in your Advance Care Plan/Advance Care Directive.
Some useful links:
DonateLife website is full of resources including frequently asked questions and myths about organ and tissue donation. The main site is available here – http://www.donatelife.gov.au
Discussion starters to have the conversation about organ and tissue donation (in various languages) – https://www.donatelife.gov.au/resources/multicultural-and-faith-communities/how-have-discussion-about-organ-and-tissue-donation
Frequently asked questions – https://www.donatelife.gov.au/about-donation/frequently-asked-questions
The DonateLife Book of Life is a collection of life-saving and life-changing stories from people touched by organ and tissue donation – https://www.donatelife.gov.au/donation-stories/donatelife-book-life/donatelife-book-life-volumes
Carers’ Circle article – Talking about funerals, burials and final wishes https://carerscircle.com.au/2021/01/19/talking-about-funerals-burials-and-final-wishes/
Photo credit: DonateLife Ambassador Kit