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It’s About Time We Had a Talk About Organ and Tissue Donation

In the beginning of August, Australia partakes in DonateLife Week. From the 30th of July to the 6th of August, this time is spent raising awareness of organ and tissue donation and inviting more people to make the life changing decision to join the Australian Organ Donor Register. But what is the process of donation, why is it so important, and why is it recommended that people register?

Here, we’ll take a look at the statistics, facts and benefits of donation, tackling all of those questions you never knew to ask and quashing any misconceptions regarding the issue.

The stats in Australia

To throw some numbers at you…

Currently, there are more than 1,400 Australians waiting for a transplant that will dramatically improve or even save their life. This is a staggering number; however, it is great to know that just one donor can transform the lives of 10 or more people.

The number of donor and transplant recipients reached the highest it has been since national records began, and in 2016 1,447 Australians were given a new life thanks to 503 donors and their families. This shows the message is getting out there, but it could be stronger.

In studies, it was found most Australians (around 69%) are generally willing to be organ and tissue donors. However, only one in three people have joined the register to become organ donors. Why does the register process matter? Well, for families deciding on whether to proceed with donation, the number plummets significantly when the deceased was not registered and had not discussed their wishes with family members – we are talking nine in ten families dropping down to only 52% when there is no prior knowledge.

Some common misconceptions holding us back

There are a few misconceptions out there that could be holding people back when it comes to registering. Here we quash just a few…

I’m too old

There is actually no age limit here and there have been people that have donated organs who are over the age of 80. Every donor is assessed based on their individual situation, and there could be a chance you would be a great donor candidate.

I’m not healthy enough

This isn’t necessarily true either. The biggest determining factors of donation is how a person dies and in what condition their organs and tissues are in. People who don’t always eat healthily, drink or even smoke can still donate as some of their organs and tissues are still viable for donation.

There are plenty of donors so I don’t need to think about it

This is a myth. Donation actually occurs quite rarely with only 1% of hospital deaths allowing for organ donation to occur. With over 1,400 people waiting on the transplant list at any one time, some sadly die still waiting for a transplant.

It is against my religion

Many, in fact almost all, religions support organ and tissue donation and is seen as generous and compassionate. Just some religions that show support of the practice are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism. Of course, if you are concerned about a particular denomination, or follow a religion not listed here, it is important to conduct research and contact your faith leaders to see if it’s right for you.

It’s also important to know that the process of organ and tissue donation can accommodate cultural and religious requirements.

Some facts for those considering donation

Want to know a little more before making a decision? Seeking the right answers and having discussions with those around you is not only the best way to decide if it’s right for you, it can also help promote the idea and help others decide too. Here are some things you might want to know.

What organs and tissues are donated

In terms of organs, the heart, lungs, liver, intestine, kidneys and pancreas can be donated.

For tissues, these include the valves and other heart tissue, skin, ligaments, tendons, bones and sections of the eye such as the sclera or cornea.

Of course, not every donor will be able to donate every organ and tissue and it will depend on the condition of them upon death.

The process

If a person dies in a situation that allows for donation to be possible, the idea is raised with the family. The Australian Organ Donor Register is checked to determine if the deceased person has registered and made their decision known regarding donation. Someone who specialises in donation will sit down with the family and discuss donation, answering any questions the family may have.

After the family is given time to discuss the possibility with each other and reach a decision, they will then inform medical staff. If donation is agreed upon, documentation is signed and will outline which organs and tissues are being donated.

The family does have every right to change their mind over whether they would like to proceed with the donation until the deceased has been taken to the operating room. If no changes are made before this time, the donation, as well as the transplant process, will be performed by medical teams specialised in this area.

During and after the process, the family of the donor is given support by DonateLife staff.

It might be important for some people to know that the donation process does not affect funeral arrangements.

Having that discussion

The death of a family member is a sad and sometimes very traumatic experience. Knowing the wishes of family members ahead of time could lessen the stress of wondering what they would have wanted and worrying about choosing the wrong decision. Starting a conversation with your family and discussing donation and if it something you would consider is important for Australians of all ages.

If you believe donation is a great decision for you, registering is the next great step that could see you saving the lives of others. To register, please visit https://register.donatelife.gov.au/.

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