I rise today to speak on the very important issue of organ donation. As we know, this week is Australian Organ Donor Awareness Week. There have been many people in both the other chamber and this chamber wearing the badge that I am wearing today to say that they support organ donation and Australian Organ Donation Awareness Week.
The decision to become a donor is a very personal and a very important one. Organ donation is another one of those issues that is very confronting to people. It is an issue that we would probably prefer not to think about but one that we should think about and one that we should talk about. We should think about it because, basically, organ donation saves lives. I am proud to be a registered organ donor, as are my husband, son, daughter and both my parents, who are in their 80s.
As a bit of background, the first heart transplant was done in South Africa in 1967, with Australia following closely in 1968. I am sure that everybody in this place remembers how significant that was in those times. The first single-lung transplant in Australia was undertaken in 1990. So there was a bit of a lag. In Australia more than 80 per cent of people support organ donation as a concept, but unfortunately the percentage of registered donors is much less. Only 1,328,721 people have registered their intention with the Australian Organ Donor Register, and some of these are objections. There is still more work to be done in this very important area. Out of that number, unfortunately only 56 per cent of families actually give approval for their loved one’s organs to be donated once the loved one has deceased. I am pleased that in my home state of Tasmania the donor rate is 16 people per million compared to the national average of 12 people per million. As I said, that is really still not good enough and leaves a lot of room for improvement.
Families may decide against organ donation because they are not sure if it is what their relative would have wanted or maybe because they are scared, distressed or unable to cope at the time with the request from the medical staff. That is completely understandable, but that trauma is eased if you have discussed the issue with your family and they are aware of your wishes. I believe it is important that everyone considers organ donation and makes an informed decision about it. Regardless of whether a person is an organ donor or not, it is important to make their loved ones aware of their decision, as I said, so that their wishes are carried out.
In November last year the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced $151 million was to be spent to boost Australia’s organ donor rate through the national DonateLife network. As part of this announcement, my home state of Tasmania received funding to establish a dedicated office for organ donation. In total, the Rudd government has provided $276,000 to the Tasmanian program for the 2009-10 financial year. The DonateLife network has the key message of ‘discover, decide and discuss’, which encompasses the three steps needed when considering organ donation.
Firstly, it is important to understand the facts, obviously so an informed decision can be made. Once you have made the decision, it is important to fill out the forms, but more important is the step of discussing this decision with your family. Almost 50 per cent of people do not realise that their family would have to confirm their wishes to be a donor. Dr Andrew Taylor from the Royal Hobart Hospital has been appointed as the Tasmanian State Medical Director with the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority in Tasmania. Dr Taylor will provide support and education for families experiencing the loss of a loved one and confronting what is a very difficult decision to make at such a traumatic time. He will also be Tasmania’s link to the national DonateLife network. He will develop Tasmania’s first organ and tissue donation agency. This is an important step forward for Tasmania, as it has previously been necessary to fly clinicians from Victoria to assess potential donors. Dr Taylor will be assisted by Rob Thornton, an experienced nurse, and both the Launceston General Hospital and the North West Regional Hospital will provide services on a part-time basis.
In Australia during 2009, 247 people donated their organs. Because of this, almost 800 people were able to have transplants. However, as of 4 January 2010, 1,770 people were waiting to get the phone call that gives them another chance at life and, sadly, not all of them will have a donor in time to save their life. To become an organ donor, people should register with the Australian Organ Donor Register. Registering is not a guarantee that your organs will be used. Families are still consulted and may override your decision. However, this is rare, especially if they have been aware of your wishes prior to your death.
Health professionals have access to the register 24 hours a day so they can check if the patient is on the register. Even if a patient is not a registered donor, doctors may still ask the families if they would consent to the organs being donated if the person is likely to be a potential candidate as a donor. While everyone can be registered donors, only about one per cent of the population can be organ donors. This is because it is necessary for the donors to actually die in hospital so that they can be kept on a ventilator while the organs are harvested. For those people who are unfortunately killed in road accidents and things like that, even if they are registered organ donors, their organs are not suitable to be donated.
There are a number of myths regarding organ donation which I would like to clarify. One is the comment that doctors may not work as hard to save the life of a person who is a registered donor. This is simply not true. Doctors have an obligation to save lives whenever it is possible and, I believe, in all cases work hard to do that. The medical staff who treat patients are not transplant physicians. The role of the transplant physician is to liaise with candidates and recipients rather than work in the emergency department or surgery.
Another myth is that it is possible for people to be declared dead when they are still alive, and this is a concern that a lot of people seem to have. But there are strict guidelines, covered by legislation, to ensure that people have been assessed properly before being declared deceased. Some people also worry that organ donors’ bodies will be mutilated and therefore it would not be possible to have an open casket at the funeral. The procedure is undertaken as carefully as any surgery would be. All attempts are made to ensure scars are minimal. Even skin and corneas can be donated with limited impact. People may be concerned that their organs might be used for medical research, but this is another myth, because this is only allowed if specific consent has been given.
Contrary to popular belief, age is not a factor in organ donation. Elderly people can be donors, as can infants. It depends on the physical health of the person. Some donors’ organs may all be suitable for donation, while other people may have only one or two organs suitable for donation. It is also untrue that families of organ donors are charged for the removal of the organs; this expense is met by the government.
It should also be noted that it is possible for living people to donate some organs and tissue. For example, a person can function with one healthy kidney, so they may give the other one to someone in need of a transplant if they are a match. This often happens between family members. Bone marrow can also be taken from a live donor.
One example of a live donor is the late Michelle Eather of Tasmania. Michelle donated a kidney to a stranger from America in 2007. Unfortunately, Michelle passed away in 2009 as a result of complications from multiple sclerosis. Michelle maintained she had made the right decision right up until she died. Due to the circumstances of her death, Michelle’s organs could not be donated; however, permission was granted for them to be used for medical research into multiple sclerosis.
Australian Doujon Zammit was also an organ donor following his tragic death in Greece while on holiday. Mr Zammit had expressed his views on organ donation, and his family followed his wishes. Doujon’s organs saved four lives, including that of Australian Kostas Gribilas. A new heart allowed Kostas to marry his partner, Poppy, with Doujon’s father, Oliver, as best man. Some well-known people have had to have organ transplants, including Aboriginal activist Charles Perkins— (Time expired)