If given the choice, would you save a life? | Kezia Lubanszky

Yesterday I registered as an organ donor. I’m 23, but I’d have done it at 16 if the thought had occurred. It’s nice to know my consent is confirmed, out of the way, sorted. It was never a question for me. I can save a life after mine has ended (up to ten, actually), give hope to a family, and all I have to do is sign on the dotted line.

The decision was basically non-existent. Harbouring no spiritual unease at the idea of my body being tampered with after death, I wasn’t going to object. Neither will I to those who feel their beliefs don’t support transplants. I would, however, advise them to think independently and assertively and read the DonateLife fact sheet on religious practices in Australia and their stance on organ donation. The problem I see isn’t with people’s beliefs, but a lack of knowledge of one’s own power to make a difference by stating consent.

At any given time in Australia there are approximately 1500 people on transplant waiting lists. Last year in Victoria, 378 donors gave new lives to over 1000 people. But that’s still only 16 donors per 1 million people.

In 2012 an inquiry into Victorian organ and tissue donation was made by the state legislative council. The report confirmed that on the world scale, Australia is among the least successful in gathering consensual donors. 43 percent of Australian families are unsure whether their loved ones wish to donate, presumably contributing to the 60 percent of Australian families who, when asked to make the decision, opt out.

The 2012 inquiry considered an opt-out method, which has been long debated both nationally and overseas. In this model, each person is given presumed consent unless they state otherwise. However, the report states that “there is a lack of clear evidence internationally and within Australia to suggest that the introduction of presumed consent would directly lead to an increase in organ donation rates.”

There are ethical concerns here too. A person’s consent is still not completely clear. As it stands, families are still required to opt-in on behalf of a deceased relative even when consent has been registered. This creates difficulties when a person’s wishes have not been made clear. But what if there was a model where it was compulsory for each person to make a decision? Register as either a donor or a non-donor? An opt-in/opt-out method?

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Photo credit: Karol Franks.

Chairman Matt Viney stated in the 2012 inquiry that necessary actions to increase organ and tissue donation rates include “the need for families to have early discussions about their donation wishes” and “a greater emphasis on raising awareness of tissue donation and the facilitation of timely tissue donations.”

When we turn 18 we enrol to vote. We should also be registering our decisions about donating. The opt-in/opt-out method takes the ambiguity out of donating. It confirms a person’s consent (or lack of) and encourages discussions between families in lead up to the decision.

It seems simple to me. If a lack of awareness really is the cause, just ask us. Tell us we have to make a decision, and most of us will say yes:

77 percent of Australians say they are willing to be organ donors, but only 39 percent are. DonateLife Week (August 2 – 9) aims to change that by promoting awareness of organ and tissue donation in Australia. Now that you’re thinking about it, here are a few ways you can help:

• Register as a donor here. If you’re keen on it, just get it out of the way. All you need are your Medicare details.

• Start discussions with friends and family both to clarify wishes and raise awareness. If nothing else, you’ve put the idea in people’s heads.

• Download the DonateLife Week action pack here.

Sign my petition to Daniel Andrews MP asking for a compulsory opt-in/opt out registration system when Victorians turn 18. Let’s get consent out of the way so that we can start giving Australians in need of transplants a better chance at life.

Kezia is a freelance writer and editor from Melbourne. She is co-editor-in-chief of The Morning Bell journal, whilst completing a diploma in professional writing and editing, and a BA. See her blog here, and follow her on Twitter here.