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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8554


Mr CLARE (4:20 PM) —On some occasions in this place we debate issues surrounding life and death—complex issues, moral issues, where there are strong opinions and no right or wrong answers. The questions raised are sometimes very hard to answer. Sometimes, however, legislation comes before this place to which we can have no objection, and I think that the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority Bill 2008 is one of those bills. That is because this bill is about saving lives and improving the quality of those lives.

Our society has already answered the philosophical question of whether or not we support organ donation. As the previous speaker said, over 90 per cent of Australians support organ donation. I am one of them. The problem is bridging the gap between those who support it and the families who ultimately choose to donate their organs. The statistics here are worrying. There are 1,800 people currently on the organ transplant waiting list. The chances are that two-thirds of them will be still waiting next year. For many of them, the wait will be too long. Think about how many childhoods have been left waiting, stunted by illness, how many university degrees, TAFE courses and apprenticeships have been left waiting, how many careers have been left waiting, how many opportunities for travel and adventure have been left waiting and how many partners, husbands, wives, children and parents have been left waiting. Life on a waiting list means a life constantly left waiting and, for many, a life cut short.

The lives of 657 people last year were saved by the selfless decisions of 198 families—families who made the decision to save the lives of others despite their own loss. A gulf still exists, however, between those who have registered to be organ donors and the rate of actual organ donation. There has been an increase of one million people who have registered to become organ donors, and that is a good thing, but there has not been an increase in the number of transplants being performed. Understandably, it is a very difficult decision for many families to make. It is a decision which has to be made when families are at their most vulnerable, when they are surrounded by sorrow and grief. It is an incredibly difficult time at which to be feeling generous.

To understand this, I would like to share the story of one Sydney family whose generosity in grief has touched many around the world. On 28 July this year, 20-year-old Doujon Zammit from Cecil Hills in Western Sydney, near my electorate, was holidaying in Mykonos, Greece. It was a trip that had been planned for many months. That night he was savagely beaten by some local bouncers, and 12 days later his life support was turned off. At a time when many would have directed their outrage and anger towards the local community, the Zammit family chose generosity. They made the extraordinary decision to donate his organs. At the time, Mr Zammit, Doujon’s father, said:

It was incredibly hard and it was incredibly emotional but I couldn’t go against my son’s wishes. This is what he wanted. It was on his licence and we had all talked about it. It’s a hard decision as a parent to make but why should my son have any less rights after his death than he had in life—this is what he chose and we had to respect that.

Doujon’s selfless decision to donate his organs and the family’s selfless decision to honour that wish saved four lives—four lives previously on a waiting list, four people and their families who are no longer left waiting. It is a challenging decision many families are still unable to make.

That is why this bill is important. It provides $1.9 million towards counselling to support donor families—support for families in their darkest hour, making difficult choices. Unlike other debates that we have had here, this is not just about encouraging people to donate their organs; it does something about it. It establishes systems for every family to be given the option of organ donation and it ensures they receive support from specially trained staff. We have committed $46 million to introduce a nationally coordinated and consistent approach under the leadership of the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority; $67 million to employ trained medical specialists and staff dedicated to organ donation; $17 million to hospitals to help with additional costs associated with organ donation; and $13.4 million towards raising community awareness.

Australia is a world leader in clinical outcomes for transplant patients. Already 30,000 people have benefited from organ or tissue transplants. But, sadly, we lag behind other countries in organ donation rates. Our donation rate is 9.4 donors per million people, one of the lowest in the developed world. Spain has a rate of 33.8 donors per million, three times higher than Australia’s. In the United States the rate is 26.9 donors per million, 2½ times that of Australia. I know this bill will help lift our donation rates, stop the waiting and ultimately save lives.

Doujon’s father put it best when he said this: ‘Doujon went to heaven without his organs.’ That is what I believe and that is what we all have to believe: that you do not need your organs to go to heaven. We need more families like the Zammits and we need to do everything in our power to help them make these difficult decisions in difficult times. If Mr Zammit can express that sentiment so eloquently while he is in the depths of sorrow, I think it is up to us here to do everything that we can to ensure that we are able to give people on the organ transplant waiting list every chance at life. I commend the bill to the chamber.