UPDATED 3:40 pm: Organ donors in the ACT can now have their donations recognised on their death certificates and receive a letter of acknowledgement from the chief minister after a new bill passed the Legislative Assembly today.
The Australian-first measure was debated in the Assembly this afternoon (21 May) after Labor backbencher Tara Cheyne flagged the changes in February. The amendments were well-received by advocates and families of donors across the Territory.
The opt-in process recognises the sacrifices that their loved ones made after they died, Ms Cheyne said.
“It seemed so fitting to me that the greatest gift a person can give, the gift of life, be recognised on a document that summarises your own life, if the family chooses. It just seemed like the right thing to do, formally recognising it in that way,” Ms Cheyne told Region Media.
“Some families have reported they feel the significant decision is under-recognised. This gives the family control and agency to decide if, how and when they wish to have their loved one’s donation recognised.”
In the ACT, donors are remembered and recognised through services of remembrance, the Gift of Life walk and the Gift of Life garden at the National Arboretum, but this Bill will provide two more formal and material avenues for families to have the donation of their loved one acknowledged, Ms Cheyne said.
The bill was drafted according to three main principles: that the measure was optional, that it is completely up to the families and that there was no time limit on it.
“I have had some families say to me it might not be the right thing for them right now, but they were happy to know it was an option,” Ms Cheyne said.
Vice-president of the organ donor awareness group Gift of Life, Bill Handke, says this recognition is a wonderful way of commemorating the lives that have been saved through the donation.
“This initiative is part of a broad way of recognising donors. A good thing about the initiative is that it allows families to determine themselves if they would like this recognition to take place so it is not as if it is being imposed on families,” he told Region Media.
“It means a tremendous amount because it is a way of them coming to terms with the death of a loved one, but that in being a donor that person has saved the lives of up to 10 other people.”
It will also have a perennial impact on the donor’s descendants, Mr Handke said.
“For a lot of families they will see that as being a lasting legacy of their loved one – but it is not just the immediate family, it is anybody 10, 20, 30 years down the track who are looking at the family tree and can see one of their forebears was a donor who saved the lives of others.
“I think that will also have a big impact on descendants down the track.”
Shadow Attorney-General Jeremy Hanson said there was no greater gift than the gift of life, flagging that the move fits into the Liberals’ support for organ donations more broadly. .
“We hope this will serve as an important act of honour and recognition for both organ donors and their families,” he said.
Around 1,600 Australians are on the transplant waiting list at any one time and countless more would benefit from organ transplants.
Around 12,000 people remain on dialysis, according to Transplant Australia. In 2019, 50 per cent of all transplants in Australia were for kidneys.