Would You Be A Donor?

Date : 31 Jul 2018 03:49 PM
  • Sandra Buol - Editor
Pulp: The Sydney University Surgical Society (SUSS) holds several events for DonateLife Week. Why is it important to raise awareness about organ donations?
Shay: As a nation, Australia has seen minor improvement in organ donation rates over the years. Currently, we are ranked as 17th in the world in terms of number of donors per million population – the gap between Australia and other leading nations is huge. Given our population size, around 1’500 lives could be saved each year if we reached our potential. Instead, we still have Australians waiting for years for a transplant and many not making it to transplantation.
There are also many misconceptions about organ donation. A common one is that once a person registers as a donor, their decision is fixed. In Australia, the decision to donate organs is ultimately made by family – this means that even if they have registered as a donor, the family can override the decision. Having the discussion with family and making donation wishes known is so important. Studies and surveys have also shown that if families are aware of this decision, less distress is experienced.
In addition, because the University of Sydney has a vastly diverse student body made up of students from all over the world, international students should be included in this conversation. Although it is not possible to register on the AODR (Australian Organ Donor Register) without a Medicare number, these students should still let their organ donation wishes known to family as it is possible to donate organs without being registered as a donor.
Pulp: One of the speakers at the Symposium the SUSS organised last Thursday talked about the ethical and moral imperatives of organ donation. What are some of the dilemmas that doctors, donors and organ receivers are confronted with?
Shay: Some potential donors hold the misbelief that registering as an organ donor means that doctors will not do their utmost to save their lives. Saving lives is the absolute priority of doctors, nurses and all health staff. Organ donation is only considered if the person has died or if death is inevitable. Furthermore, doctors are strictly prohibited from causing harm to donors for the benefit of organ receivers. There are protocols that have to be stringently followed to ensure this.
One dilemma that has even come up in courts is that no transplant interventions can begin until death is called for the donor. When a patient is withdrawn from life support, they might die straightaway or they may take awhile to pass away. The longer it takes to die, the more likely the organs are to be damaged and will not be viable for transplantation. Since death is inevitable, some donors and donor families have asked to speed death along or to go into surgery immediately after being taken off life support. However, the law maintains that death needs to take its course without any involvement from the treating clinicians for the benefit of organ donation. This law will probably never change as our first priority has to be to the health and life of the donor, not the recipient.
Donors and their family members may also be hesitant to make the decision of donating organs as they fear the disfigurement of the body. In fact, this is untrue as organ retrieval is performed by highly skilled and professional teams who ensure that the surgical incision is closed following the procedure. The body can be made presentable for an open casket viewing if it is desired.
Pulp: More than 1400 Australians are on a waiting list – would an opt-out system (instead of the current registration system) be a better solution?
Shay: Changing the Australian system to an opt-out one might improve the current situation slightly. However, all policy changes take time and will very likely meet resistance. A more feasible, effective change would be to improve upon existing processes to ensure that all potential donation opportunities are realised. This includes improving organ matching processes and broadening medical suitability criteria. Meanwhile, there has to be continual effort to encourage more people to register as donors.
Whether registered as an organ donor or not, the final decision will be left up to the families. That is why discussion is so vital to organ donation. Programs are in place to train doctors about how to bring up the talk about organ donation to families, let them know all of their options, clear up any misconceptions they might have and, most importantly, support them through the difficult time whether they choose to donate or not. Furthermore, everybody needs to discuss with his or her loved ones if they do or do not want to donate their organs in the event of their death as to ensure the family knows their wishes. Being a registered donor definitely helps, but we believe it’s the dialogue among families and between patients and doctors that is really going to make a difference.
Pulp: The SUSS will have an information stall on Eastern Avenue the next few days. What can students find there?
Shay: Our volunteers will be equipped to provide information on how to register to become an organ donor. We will be handing out brochures for you to take home for yourself or for you to help spread the word to friends and family. Students can ask questions and test their knowledge about organ donation and transplantation through some fun games at the stall. We will also be giving out free DonateLife merchandise and popcorn!
Pulp: You’ve also organised a BBQ for Friday. Will there be any other events to raise awareness?
Shay: We held a Transplant Symposium this past Thursday where we heard from a transplant recipient and distinguished doctors. Our volunteers will be on Eastern Avenue 10.30am – 3.30pm all this week – drop by for a quick chat with us if you are interested to find out more about organ donation (or if you’re feeling like free popcorn)!
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