Donating life: The facts about organ donation
You may have seen commercials on TV promoting organ donation by a group called Donate Life (new window). The commercials encourage Australians to register as organ donors and to talk about the decision with their families. It's an important message that every Australian needs to hear.
The facts about organ transplant waiting lists
Around 90% of Australians think that organ donation is a good idea, yet only 850,000 Australians have signed up to the Organ Donor Register. That's only 4% of the population.
While Australia has one of the best transplant survival rates in the world, it also has one of the lowest donation rates. Each year few deaths occur in such a way that organ donation is possible and, as a result, only about one third of the demand for organ transplants can be met.
Sarah Hill's husband, Jason, was diagnosed with total kidney failure at the age of 31. He has been living on the waiting list for the past six years. What Sarah describes is an agonising, painful wait where the future is uncertain.
"He's in a position now that without a transplant we're probably not going to have him for that much longer, because we've waited that long," she says. "There's no quality of life left for him. Six years ago he was still actively able to do things in between dialysis but then it just gets worse and worse because you're waiting such long periods of time."
The longer a person waits for a transplant, the greater their risk of deteriorating health and reduced quality of life. In January 2010 there were 1770 people on the organ transplant waiting list. More than two thirds were waiting for a kidney. The usual waiting time is between six months and four years, but in some cases people can wait as long as 10 years. Each year hundreds of people will die while waiting for an organ transplant.
In a bid to tackle this, in January 2009 the Australian Government established The Organ and Tissue Authority as a part of its $151 million national reform package, based on the world's best practices for organ donation for transplantation. The Donate Life campaign (new windowhttp://www.donatelife.gov.au) was launched in November 2009 by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and The Organ and Tissue Authority. The Donate Life network provides the first nationally coordinated and consistent network of agencies in Australia.
Letting your family know
Raising awareness about family member's consent has been the focus of the Donate Life program and its recent commercials on TV. Many people do not know that although a person may be a registered donor, it is their families that will ultimately give the final permission.
"People misunderstand the fact that if you mark on your licence that you want to donate your organs that it means it will happen," Kim Mullins, transplant co-ordinator at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital, explains. Your family can still override that decision. Ultimately if they don't know the family's wishes they can actually say not to donate when the deceased person would have liked to have their organs donated."
Around 40% of families do not consent to donate the organs of a deceased loved one because they do not know their love ones' donation wishes.
As someone who has been living on the transplant list, Sarah Hill agrees that it's about time a national campaign was launched to raise awareness about the issue.
"I don't think there's enough publicity about what people are really suffering from. I would never have known any of this unless I was living it myself," she says. "Jason's life is on hold until he gets a transplant. Without the transplant he doesn't have a future. People like Jason haven't got too many options left. "
How can you register as a donor?
You can register as an organ donor by going to the Australian Medicare website (new window)
People aged 18 or over can record their consent on the Donor Register. People aged 16 or 17 years can record a registration of intent, which means consent from families will still be needed for organ donation to take place.
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