How to Give the Greatest Gift There Is

Posted by - - Medical Law.

The number of actual organ donors per million population in Australia is scandalously low—only ten donors. Last year there were only 198 organ donors in the entire country, the lowest level since 2003, and substantially less than the 1989 figure of 231.There are currently more than 2,000 people, many of them children, on transplant waiting lists in Australia. In the coming year, more than 100 will die waiting for a transplant. Many more of them will continue to suffer terrible impairment to their quality of life.

But it need not be so. The death of one person can give life to several others—liver, heart, kidneys and so on—or alleviate their suffering—cornea, pancreas and so on.

Whether to donate the organs of a brain-dead person is an emotional and difficult issue. Were it a question of pure reason, the answer would be simple: donate every time. Why is it that despite 94% approval for organ donation as a concept, the actual rate is so tragically low?

I don’t think it is anything to do with religion. The number of adherents to faiths which proscribe organ donations is not very high. Nor are there many faiths that hold such anti-life views. Our collective failure to facilitate suitable organ donation rates is more likely connected to, firstly, the rather confronting contemplation of the process and the implementation of administrative steps to effect it, and, secondly, a perception that notwithstanding the rather obvious benefits to others, that it would be somehow disrespectful to the deceased. Somewhat ironically, some relatives will oppose an organ donation even when the deceased has clearly and specifically stated that he or she wishes to be a donor.

In South Australia, organ donation is controlled by the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1983 (SA). When a person dies in hospital or is taken to hospital after death, a hospital officer may authorise the removal of organs in certain circumstances. The Australian Organ Donor Register is one way of ascertaining the wishes of the deceased. In practice, the family of the deceased is generally consulted and donations do not proceed if the family is strongly opposed.

Statistics from NSW, the ACT, Victoria, and Tasmania indicate that, when called upon to make the decision, family members consent, on average, only 57% of the time. Frequently, the reason given for declining to give consent is unfamiliarity with what the deceased would have wanted.

Given that 96% of the population support the principle of organ donation, and the obviously public good that it entails, it ought to be presumed that a brain-dead potential donor consents to organ donation, and that the only way that presumption can be rebutted is by reference to a contrary instruction in the Australian Organ Donor Registry. This will require legislative change.

Give life, and have a very merry Christmas day.

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