DonateLife Week – discover, decide, discuss

| February 21, 2014

Next week is DonateLife Week to raise awareness about organ and tissue donation. Fiona Nash, Assistant Minister for Health and Senator for NSW, urges all Australians to have the chat that saves lives.

The majority of Australians support organ and tissue donation. We are a generous nation with a profound tradition of helping out a neighbour in need.

While we all have the potential, it is relatively rare for people to have the actual opportunity to become organ donors.  Of the 75,400 hospital deaths in Australia last year, only around 725 people died in the specific circumstances which would permit organ donation.

Last year, 1,122 Australians and their families received the gift of a transplanted organ due to the generosity of 391 organ donors and their families.

This was a record level for organ donation and transplantation outcomes in Australia.  The number of actual organ donors each year has increased by 58% since the DonateLife Network was established in 2009 and is almost double the historical annual average of 200 organ donors for 2000-2008.

The Australian Government is strongly committed to the organ donation process in our country, and to the clinical, ethical and professional settings which underpin it.

Australia’s national reform program is implementing world’s best practice – in close consultation with experts from around the world, including Spain, Croatia, Portugal, Canada, the United Kingdom and the USA.

Their key insight is that reform of organ and tissue donation is through a sustained approach to changing clinical practice around end of life care. It takes time, as national systems are developed and hospital-based clinical practice is reformed.  While the change is revolutionary, the growth is progressive.

Spain and Croatia’s reform systems have been underway for 22 years and 12 years respectively. Both took ten years to embed this reform. Both show that sustained effort to fundamentally change donation clinical practice is effective.

Australia’s reform program, led by the Organ and Tissue Authority, is always aiming to improve – to increase capability and capacity within the health system; and to build community awareness and engagement across Australia.

We have delivered specialised Family Donation Conversation training to more than 600 health professionals across Australia: teaching them how to communicate with and support grieving families around death and potential organ donation. The training will support every potential donor family to make an informed decision about donation.

We are focused on continued engagement with the public. The DonateLife Community Awareness and Education program calls on all Australians to discover the facts; register on the Australian Organ Donor Register; and most importantly discuss and know family members’ donation decisions.

Three in four Australians now tell us that they have discussed organ and tissue donation with family members. This is a conversation that needs to take place more than once so that family members are clear about each other’s donation decision.

It is very rare for a family to veto a loved one’s donation decision if they had previously discussed it.  By speaking with your family and letting them know your donation decision, you are helping them be prepared should they one day be asked to agree to your donation decision.

By having this conversation now, you could help save the lives of up to ten people. It’s that simple. I urge all Australians to discuss organ and tissue donation with their loved ones, and DonateLife Week is a timely reminder to do so.

Most importantly, I wish to pay particular tribute not only to those who so generously shared their decision about organ and tissue donation, but to their families who showed the courage to honour that decision and to all families who decided to proceed with donation in times of overwhelming grief and loss.

Respecting patient’s choices extends to organ and tissue donation. As families and as a broader community, our challenge is to honour those who have committed to save the lives of others as an organ and tissue donor.

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Fiona Nash

Fiona Nash is Assistant Minister for Health, Senator for NSW and Deputy Leader of the Nationals in the Senate. She is married with two children.