Organ Donation - General Information

Why donate?
What is organ and tissue donation?
Can anyone donate?
How do I make my decision count?

Each year there are only approximately 200 organ donors across Australia. This figure equates to Australia having one of the lowest organ donor rates in the developed world and hundreds of people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant.

For people with serious or life-threatening illness, organ transplantation is their only option for a second chance at life. More than 30,000 Australians have received transplants in the last 60 years. Improved survival rates now mean that most recipients of organs can look forward to a better quality of life.

Less than one per cent of deaths occur in such a way that organ donation is possible and currently only an average of 50 per cent of families consent to organ donation of a loved one across Australia.

The organ donation rate could be dramatically improved if more people discussed their wishes with their family and registered their decision on the Australian Organ Donor Registry.

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Why donate?

One organ and tissue donor could help save and improve the quality of life of up to 10 people.

Organ transplants transform lives and are the best possible treatment for people with organ failure. But there simply aren’t enough donor organs for everyone who needs them.

Due to this shortage of organs, currently there are approximately 2,000 people on transplant waiting lists around Australia and hundreds of people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant.

Life on the list for some people can last for more than 15 years and reduces peoples’ quality of life dramatically. Kidney failure can mean up to eight hours a day on a dialysis machine, heart or lung failure can leave people struggling to walk and with liver failure tired, bloated and jaundice.

Another important reason to think about donation and make your decision known is because less than one per cent of people die in such a way that organ donation is medically possible.

Currently only an average of 50 per cent of families consent to organ donation across Australia, with one of the main reasons families say ‘no’ because they are unaware of their loved one’s wishes.

A 2006 Australians Donate survey showed that although 94 percent of Australians support organ and tissue donation for transplantation, one-in-four Australians have not made their wishes known about organ and tissue donation to anyone.

Still too few people think about donation or discuss it with their partner, family or friends. A simple discussion about your decision could mean 10 lives could be dramatically changed.

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What is organ and tissue donation?

Organ and tissue donation is when a person has made their wishes known, or their family, agrees to the removal of one or more of their organs or tissues, so that the organs or tissues can be transplanted into someone else to either save or improve their quality of life.

Most organs are donated by people who die while on a ventilator in an Intensive Care Unit, generally as a result of a major accident, a brain haemorrhage or stroke. Today very few people die in these circumstances and the number is falling because of welcomed improvements in road safety and advances in medical treatment.

A person can donate a number of different organs, including the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver and pancreas. They can also donate certain body tissues, such as corneas, skin, heart valves and bone.

Tissue donation may occur when someone has died without being in hospital as tissues can be donated up to 24 hours after death. Many more people are suitable for tissue donation than organ donation.

While most donations occur after a person has died, it is also possible to donate some organs while you are still alive. For example, a relative or friend can donate one of their kidneys to another relative or friend. This is called living-related donation.

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Can anyone donate?

Anyone from the age of 12 months up to the age of 90 can potentially become an organ and tissue donor.

However, only around one percent of people will die in circumstances likely to make them medically suitable to become donors, but most people have the potential to be an organ or tissue donor.

You shouldn't assume you’re not healthy enough or are either too young or old. The factors that will determine a person’s suitability to become an organ donor include:
  • the circumstances of how, where and when a person dies
  • any past medical history
  • age is considered, but it is more important to assess organ function

You may still become a donor if you smoke, wear glasses, drink alcohol or regularly take medication.

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How do I make my decision count?

One of the first steps you can take to ensure your wishes are followed through is to have a simple discussion with your partner, family and friends.

Family or next-of-kin are consulted in the organ and tissue donation process, and if they don’t know their loved one’s decision, not only will their decision be made much harder, it is possible organ donation will not go ahead.

Currently only an average of 50 percent of families consent to organ donation of a loved one across Australia, with one of the main reasons families say ‘no’ because they are unaware of their loved one’s wishes.

It is also important to register on the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR). In the event of a death, where the patient is a potential donor, information about their decision will be accessed by a suitably qualified member of the medical staff from the AODR and provided to their family.

In January 2005, AODR become a register of legal consent and is the only official national register for organ and tissue donation. Although in some states in Australia you can still tick a box on your license, this process does not ensure you will become an organ and/or tissue donor.

The AODR ensures your consent (or objection) to donating organs and tissue for transplantation and can be verified 24 hours a day, seven days a week by authorised medical personnel, anywhere in Australia.

It is rare for a donation not to go ahead because the family or next-of-kin do not agree with their loved one’s decision.

You are more likely to need a transplant than to ever become an organ donor.

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