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Organ donation should be the default, not an opt-in

By Charlotte Harper - 23 January 2017 6

Last year Brendan Irvine and son Harry competed in their first triathlon to mark a year to the day of their kidney transplant (Brendan donated a kidney to Harry). They're pictured here after their second triathlon, in December. Photo: Susie Irvine

Do you know a Canberran who has donated a kidney to save a loved one? I know three such heroes, and have met the beneficiaries of two others. Theirs are our city’s greatest love stories. Of parent and child, husband and wife, colleague or friend, making a huge and high-risk sacrifice to save the life of someone they care about.

Their stories move me to tears, but make me wonder why so many of us have yet to sign up to the Australian Organ Donor Register. If these people are prepared to go through surgery and the risks involved in living afterwards with only one kidney, how can we not commit to passing on our organs once they are no longer of any value to us?

Here’s one such story, about 9-year-old Canberra Harry Irvine who runs triathlons these days with his dad (and kidney donor) Brendan Irvine:

Perhaps in part because of inspirational stories like that of Brendan and Harry, it turns out we’re ahead of the nation when it comes to organ and tissue donation here in the ACT.

Last week, Acting Health Minister Mick Gentleman announced that we’re leading the country, with a rate of 32.3 donations per million of population compared to the national rate of 20.8. He added that the ACT recorded the highest number ever of donation and transplantation outcomes for the ACT in 2016, with 59 people receiving life-saving organ transplants thanks to 20 organ donors and their families. This was a 54% increase in the number of deceased organ donors and an increase in the number of lives saved after transplant compared with 2015.

But what about all the people who could’ve been saved if more of us were signed up to the Organ Donator Register?

In fact, I reckon we have the system all wrong. Organ donation should be the standard from which we must opt out, rather than a choice we can opt in for. Dozens of countries around the world, including Spain, Austria, and Belgium, operate an opt-out system. Here are some stats to demonstrate the benefits: Germany, which uses an opt-in system, has an organ donation consent rate of 12% among its population, while Austria, a country with a very similar culture and economic development, but which uses an opt-out system, has a consent rate of 99.98%.

Should the Federal Government legislate for an opt-out rather than opt-in system for organ donation?

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Last year, 1448 Australians received a lifesaving transplant as a result of the generosity of 503 deceased organ donors whose families agreed to donation at the time of their loved one’s death.

If ticking a box on a website could save the lives of up to ten people after we’re gone, why wouldn’t we say yes to becoming an organ donor?

Yes, in some cases there are health reasons or matters of faith that preclude individuals from signing up to the program, but I suspect in most cases the reason we’re not signing up is because it’s an administrative matter that is just not a priority for us on any given day. Essentially, we’re too lazy.

That’s why I reckon we should all be organ donors by default unless we take those administrative steps to opt out. The Federal Government should legislate to make it so.

I’m not arguing for compulsory donation, just a default position that is the opposite to that we have now: opt-out rather than opt-in.

In the meantime, if you’re not signed up to the organ donor register, please consider doing it today, and let family members know of your wishes so that they don’t overrule your call on the matter after you’re gone. It’s important to discuss it with them so that everyone is clear about what you want to happen after your death. They’re more likely to respect your wishes if they understand how serious you are about helping to save the lives of others after you’re gone.

Details on how to sign up to the register are here.

To learn more about organ and tissue donation phone DonateLife ACT on 6174 5625 or visit www.donatelife.gov.au.

Pictured above are Brendan Irvine and son Harry, 9, who competed in their first triathlon to mark a year to the day of their kidney transplant (Brendan donated a kidney to Harry on February 19, 2015). Here, the pair celebrate together after their second triathlon, in December. Photo: Susie Irvine

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6 Responses to
Organ donation should be the default, not an opt-in
devils_advocate 9:16 am 25 Jan 17

Masquara said :

There’s just too much of an incentive for medical staff to designate a patient “brain dead” in order to get their hands on the organs, sorry. I’m not a donor – I watched that A Current Affair interview 20 years ago , a fellow who overheard the doctors discussing harvesting his organs while he was “brain dead” – then he woke up and led a full life. Nothing will convince me to put my organs in the hands of a hospital.

Agree. I have lots of healthy organs but I would prefer that the medical practitioners do everything in their power to save my life, without their incentives being diluted by the knowledge that if they don’t manage to do so then it won’t be a total write-off.

Having said that, I think individuals should have the right to choose. This idea that the family gets the final say is ridiculous, so long as you were an adult and of sane mind when you decided one way or another, that intention should be given effect after one has died.

Masquara 8:39 pm 23 Jan 17

There’s just too much of an incentive for medical staff to designate a patient “brain dead” in order to get their hands on the organs, sorry. I’m not a donor – I watched that A Current Affair interview 20 years ago , a fellow who overheard the doctors discussing harvesting his organs while he was “brain dead” – then he woke up and led a full life. Nothing will convince me to put my organs in the hands of a hospital.

Acton 3:47 pm 23 Jan 17

“ACT leading the nation in organ and tissue donation rates” bleats Mick Gentleman.

Here’s another way of looking at organ donation rates without regurgitating ACT Labor spin.

“Canberra has one of Australia’s lowest rates of organ donation registration”

http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-has-one-of-australias-lowest-rates-of-organ-donation-registration-20160713-gq5cl8.html

What does 32.3 donations per million of population mean?

It means a rate of .0000323%. Multiply this by the population of the ACT (say 400,000) and that equates to a number of just under 13 donations. 13 donors out of a population of 400,000.

The national rate of 20.8 donations per million of population (24.3m) equals about 505 donations.

The use of percentages to disguise very low actual numbers allows lobby groups, politicians and the media to dishonestly manipulate facts. Percentage increases and percentage comparisons mean little if they are based on very low numbers, locally and nationally.

Chris Mordd Richards 2:52 pm 23 Jan 17

I have been an organ donor since 18, and check every 5 years or so to make sure I am still listed on the registry as a full donor (once I dropped off somehow around 22 for unknown reasons).

I also remind my family and closest friends every few years that I am a full organ donor so they can ensure in the case of my passing this is communicated and confirmed straight away, and the card is in my wallet at all times with my donor registry details. it is important to communicate this to those close to you even if you are on the registry, as in some situation spouses or family can over-ride your donor wishes through ignorance or intentionally, from what I have heard in the past.

I would support changing to an opt-in registry and force people to specifically opt-out if they object to donation – not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to object, but they should be required to do the work to opt-out, not everyone else to opt-in I think.

Maya123 12:28 pm 23 Jan 17

I agree; it should be opt out, rather than in.
I am signed up.

gooterz 11:38 am 23 Jan 17

Cant we just manufacture organs these days? Australia should be growing them not collecting them.

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