Organ Donation – Not Your Decision
Lately were being bombarded with ads about organ donation. In particular, theres an emphasis on the need to talk to your family about your wishes, now, while youre still alive and kicking.
This raises an interesting question; isnt the decision about what happens to your body when you die, yours to make?
Actually, no. It tends to become your familys.
Every state and territory in Australia has its own legislation about the removal of organs and tissue. In NSW, its the Human Tissue Act 1983. The law here says that if the deceased had given their consent in writing, then tissue (which also means organs) can be removed. If not, the hospital must have the familys written consent.
In practice though, the consent of a family member is sought regardless. Assuming that the next-of-kin can be tracked down, they will always be consulted about the deceaseds wishes. If they object to organ donation, it wont happen.
The Act uses the term, senior available next of kin to determine which family member makes that decision, beginning with the spouse. In the absence of a spouse, the decision goes to a son or daughter, followed by a parent, and then a sibling.
But this begs the question; if the final decision isnt yours, why bother registering to be a donor at all?
Its actually worthwhile. For a start, registering with the Australian Organ Donor Registry (AODR) means you record your legal decision to donate organs or tissue when you die, in writing. If your family know youve given your consent, theyre far more comfortable giving theirs.
And if youre not survived by any family members, the hospital will make the decision based on whether you have consented in writing.
If you havent, and family cant be tracked down, donation wont take place.
Ticking that little box and getting Donor A status on your state drivers licence actually means very little when it comes to the crunch. The AODR is the only national database that can be accessed 24/7 by authorised medical personnel. Deaths can happen suddenly, so they may need to get information and consent pretty quickly.
With the current push for more donors, it will be interesting to see what ethical questions crop up in the future. For example, at the moment going on the register means you consent to donate to the most suitable person on the waiting list. The identity of donors and recipients cant be shared. But the issue about directed donation has been raised, such as someone only consenting for their organs to go to a certain recipient.
One thing seems clear; if youre serious about donating your organs, tell your family. They get the ultimate say when youre gone.