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Organ donation frequently asked questions

Almost anyone can be an organ or tissue donor. Find out how and why and what you
can do to save lives.
Frequently asked questions

What is organ and tissue donation? Few deaths in hospitals each year occur in such a
way that organ donation is possible – that is, in the
Organ donation is a medical procedure. It involves
Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, where a ventilator
removing organs and tissue from a donor and
can artificially keep organs functioning until they
transplanting them into someone who, in many
can be donated.
cases, is very ill or dying. The donation saves life or
significantly improves quality of life. An important part of increasing Australia’s donor
rate is ensuring that Australian families know each
Most transplants occur when the donor dies. In
others’ wishes about organ and tissue donation.
some cases living donors may give one of their
kidneys or part of their liver to a recipient. Many people think that deciding to become an
organ donor is a private decision. They do not
Australia’s transplant success rates are among the
always realise that even if you have registered your
world’s highest. One organ and tissue donor can
decision on the Australian Organ Donor Register,
save the lives of up to 10 people and improve the
your family’s consent is still required.
lives of dozens more. For example:

ÖÖ a lung transplant can save the life of a child


Who can donate?
ÖÖ a kidney transplant can mean a person no
longer needs to spend several hours, several
times a week, hooked up to a dialysis machine Almost anyone can donate organs and tissues.
Age, health and lifestyle are no restriction.
ÖÖ a corneal transport can give the gift of sight.
The determining factors are where and how the
Around 1700 people are on official organ transplant donor dies and the condition of the organs and
waiting lists at any one time. tissues. Specialised health professionals assess each
person at the time of death to decide which organs
The first step to becoming an organ and tissue and tissues are suitable for donation.
donor is to discover the facts. You can then make an
informed decision and register your wishes on the People who drink or smoke may not be able to
Australian Organ Donor Register. Every Australian donate their liver or lungs but may still be able to
family should know family members’ wishes about donate other organs and tissues. People in their
donation, in case the situation arises. 80’s have saved the lives of much younger people.
People with cancer have been able to donate
tissues.
Why is there a shortage of organs and
tissue? Only a few medical conditions, such as
transmissible diseases like HIV, may prevent
Australia has one of the lowest organ donation someone being a donor. A person may not be able
rates in the developed world. The Australian to donate for 12 months after having a tattoo.
Government’s World’s Best Practice National
Reform Package on Organ and Tissue Donation for
Transplantation aims to increase the number of
organ and tissue donors.

October 2009
Frequently asked questions

What can I donate? Is organ and tissue donation against


In Australia you can donate your organs – heart, my religion?
lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas – and tissues – Most religions, including all major religions, support
heart valves and pericardium, corneal and eye tissue, organ and tissue donation and transplantation as acts
bone and related musculoskeletal tissue and skin. of generosity and merit because they benefit others.

Can I decide what I donate? How does the donation process work?
Yes. You record which organs and tissue you want to When someone dies in circumstances where they
donate on the Australian Organ Donor Register. It is can become an organ donor, the intensive care
important that you discuss your wishes with family. medical team raises the possibility of donation with
the family.

How do I register to be a donor? Sometimes the family raises the topic of donation.
Join the Australian Organ Donor Register, the The Australian Organ Donor Register is checked.
national register administered by Medicare If the person registered ‘no’, donation will not
Australia. proceed. If the person registered ‘yes’ or had not
registered, a DonateLife™ donor coordinator will
To join the register, go to www.medicare.gov.au or
meet the family to talk about donation.
www.donorregister.gov.au, call 1800 777 203 or visit
any Medicare office. The family is given time to make a decision. If they
agree to donation, there is some paperwork to
confirm the donation and which organs and tissue
Does my family need to know if I’m a may be retrieved.
donor?
After the organs and tissues are donated, the donor
Yes, this is very important. Donation will not go
coordinator keeps in touch with the family to tell
ahead without the consent of your family. About
them about the success of the transplants and to
40% of families don’t consent to organ donation.
provide support during their time of grief.
Mostly, this is because they did not know the
wishes of their loved one.

Can I choose who gets my organs and


Can I register if I’m under 18 or can I tissue?
register my children? No. Organ and tissue donation for transplantation
is based on the concept of altruism. There are strict
You can register an “intent to be an organ and
guidelines for selecting recipients, based on who is
tissue donor” with the Australian Organ Donor
the best match for the organ and tissue.
Register from the age of 16. You can only fully
register from the age of 18. The only exception is if you decide to be a ‘living
donor’ and give a kidney or part of your liver to a
Children cannot be registered by their parents, but
family member or friend.
that does not prevent them from being donors as
the family can approve donation. If you participate in the Australian Paired Kidney
Exchange program as a living donor, you will not be
If you are under 18, or have children, a frank
able to choose the recipient, but you will know your
discussion about donation ensures the family is
family member or friend will receive a kidney.
prepared if they need to make the decision.

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Frequently asked questions

How do doctors know I’m dead? between your family and the medical team and
will help your family after the donation, particularly
There are two causes of death – brain death and
with arranging a private farewell and, if the family
cardiac death. Most people die a cardiac death,
wishes, a viewing of the body.
where they stop breathing and have no heart beat.
Most cardiac deaths mean organ donation is not Later, the coordinator will contact your family with
possible, though tissues can be donated. information on the outcome of the donation and
details of support offered in your state or territory.
Brain death occurs when the brain is so badly
The coordinator will give information on how to
damaged that it stops functioning permanently,
write to recipients if the family wishes.
usually as the result of bleeding in the brain, stroke,
infection or an injury to the head. Your organs
will not be removed until two senior doctors have
separately tested and confirmed that you are brain How long do people wait for
dead. transplants?
Waiting times are usually between six months and
If you die a brain death in hospital, you can be kept four years but there are cases where the recipient
on a ventilator that keeps your organs functioning must wait even longer.
until donation can take place.
There is a strong awareness that in most cases
the longer the delay in receiving a transplant, the
Can I have a normal funeral? greater the risk of deteriorating health.
Yes. Funeral arrangements are not affected by
organ donation. Organ and tissue donations will
happen quickly after you die. You will be able to What is Australia’s transplant
have an open casket funeral. Your body will appear success rate?
as if you had undergone normal surgery. You will be Australia has one of the highest transplant
clothed for the funeral, so stitches won’t be visible. success rates in the world.

Since 1965, more than 30,000 Australians


What support will my family get? have received life-saving or life-improving
organ and tissue transplants.
The Intensive Care Unit team caring for you and
the DonateLife™ donor coordinator will give your Despite the hundreds of life-saving organ
family as much support as they need during and transplant operations performed each
after the decision to donate. year, Australia meets only one third of its
transplant demand.
Your family will also have access to free
bereavement counselling. Tissue transplants and grafts are more
common, including about 1700 corneal
The DonateLife™ donor coordinator will be the transplants each year.
point of contact for your family from the time
donation is first discussed. This coordinator will Transplants not only improve the quality
provide information about donation, answer any of people’s lives but also cut the nation’s
questions, help with paperwork and coordinate the medical bill by reducing the number of long-
medical procedures required prior to donation. term treatments.
The DonateLife™ donor coordinator is an advocate
for you and your family. They provide the link

October 2009 3
Organ and tissue
Frequently asked donation
questionsin Australia

How many transplants happen in that state. If there is no suitable recipient, the organ
Australia? is offered to transplant units in other states and
territories in a pre-determined order designed to
In 2008, 889 Australians received organs from 259 promote equity.
deceased donors. In addition, 353 people received a
kidney and 3 people received a part liver from living
donors.
It’s important to share
In all, 812 kidneys were transplanted, 179 livers, 85
hearts (including 5 heart/lung transplants), 218 lungs, your wishes on organ
32 pancreas, 11 pancreas islets and 1696 corneas. Two and tissue donation.
hundred people donated their heart tissues. Forty
people benefited from skin grafts and nearly 4000
musculoskeletal grafts were distributed.
Criteria include:
Donors and transplant recipients vary in age from ÖÖ how long the person has been waiting for a
small babies to the elderly. transplant

Australia has one of the highest transplant success ÖÖ the person’s medical condition
rates in the developed world, but one of the lowest
organ donation rates. ÖÖ the urgency for a transplant

As of 1 January, 2009, there were 1,716 people on ÖÖ how well the tissue/organs match the person
organ transplant waiting lists, with over 60% of
these waiting for a kidney transplant. Unfortunately, ÖÖ whether the organ can be made available to the
two people die each week while waiting for an person in time.
organ transplant. Only one third of the demand is
Organs such as the heart, lungs, liver and pancreas
met each year.
are matched to recipients by blood group, size
Each year, thousands of people need a tissue graft. compatibility and urgency. Age and sex are not
relevant.

Kidneys are matched by blood group and tissue


How are transplant recipients chosen? compatibility through the computerised National
The process that allocates organs to transplant Organ Matching Service, administered by the
recipients is designed to be as fair and equitable Australian Red Cross Blood Service. Kidneys are
as possible. At present, allocation is guided by offered to the best suited recipient, regardless of
protocols developed by the Transplantation Society where they live.
of Australia and New Zealand (TSANZ) and the
Australasian Transplant Coordinators Association There are no formal waiting lists for tissues, though
(ATCA). shortages can occur.

Transplant waiting lists are managed by different The Authority is working with TSANZ and other
groups according to the organ involved and the state stakeholders to develop a new national framework
or territory where the recipient resides. for organ and tissue allocation. It is expected that
national coordination will improve the availability of
When organs (other than kidneys) become available organs.
for donation, they are offered to transplant units in

For more information visit www.donatelife.gov.au


Make sure you and your loved ones discuss Australian Organ and Tissue Authority
your wish to be an organ donor. Some 2000 Level 5, 51 Allara Street Canberra ACT 2600
Australians waiting for donor organs wish PO Box 295 Civic Square ACT 2608
you would. Telephone 02 6198 9800 Facsimile 02 6198 9801

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Your wish can save a life. But only if you tell someone!