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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1729


Ms O’DWYER (1:10 PM) —The progress of human civilisation has been marked with extraordinary breakthroughs in medical science. From the first transfusion of human blood, to the use of insulin to treat diabetes, to the Salk vaccine that rid the world of polio, we have seen vast improvements in our length and quality of life.

Organ transplantation was a similarly groundbreaking achievement. In 1954, the American surgeon Joseph Murray performed the first kidney transplant between identical twins. In 1967 the South African heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard performed the first successful human-to-human heart transplant. Both of these events were defining moments in medical history and gave hope and new life to patients around the world. After years of unsuccessful attempts, the ability to transplant human organs was considered nothing short of a miracle, especially for those who could now rely on transplants to survive otherwise incurable diseases.

Today, organ and tissue transplants are common procedures, and improvements in technology and technique has meant that the success rate for even complicated surgical procedures such as heart transplants have improved. The transplantation of human organs and tissue has saved the lives of thousands of Australians. Since 1965, more than 30,000 Australians have received transplants. With improved survival rates, recipients of organ transplants can enjoy significantly prolonged lives. For people with serious or life-threatening illnesses, organ and tissue transplantation means a second chance at life.

It is a testament to the achievements of our world’s medical scientists that we are now in a position to mark organ donation week—a week that encourages Australians to sign up as organ donors. An organ donor can potentially save and extend multiple lives. In 2010, 309 organ donors gave 931 Australians a new chance in life. Unfortunately, around 1,700 people are, at any one time, on the Australian organ transplant waiting list. On average, people on the transplant list must wait between six months and four years.

The potential to save lives is huge if as many Australians as possible register. With the increasing success and popularity of organ transplants, the shortfall in donors relative to the requirement for organs is growing. We all have the power to save lives and prevent debilitating illnesses and it does not cost us anything. But cultural impediments and a lack of knowledge often prevent us from taking action. For many of us, organ donation is not something that we often think about. Many people, understandably, do not like to think about their own death. And so, although they may consider organ donation to be a noble idea, they do not think about it enough to take action.

Organ donation week is about generating awareness and bringing the issues to the forefront of people’s minds. It is about making organ donation a common practice in our society, rather than something that is too morbid to discuss with friends and family. It is about making people feel comfortable with the idea of becoming an organ donor. It is also about giving people an opportunity to take action and register.

Last week, I, along with a number of other members of this place, including the member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann—she was here a moment ago—and also the member for Fowler, took part in the Donate Life walk around Lake Burley Griffin. What was inspiring about this walk was the fact that we were joined by so many hundreds of people from the local community.

Organ donation week will encourage Australians to have a discussion about organ donation with their friends and family. It is important to talk about it with those close to you because registering as an organ donor, like I have, is not enough. Family consent is always sought, so it is important to discuss your wishes with family members to ensure your wishes are fulfilled.

There are many Australians who would like to be organ donors but who simply have not been prompted to become one or have put it off for whatever reason. Yet we need to factor the discussion about organ donation into our life just as we would make time for a significant family birthday, a health check-up, making a will or, worse still, doing our tax.

In many cases, people may assume that their consent is not required for their organs to be used after death. It is remarkable to think that one-third of Australians do not know that family consent is needed for their organs to be donated when they pass away. Many people may assume that there is an adequate supply of organs available for those who need them or that a past illness rules them out. It is always worth checking with a doctor to determine whether you are eligible to become a donor. You should not assume that you are ineligible.

A common perception is that if you lived in the United Kingdom during the mad cow outbreak you are unable to become a donor. The fact is you are still able to donate organs and some tissue, and you should discuss these options with your doctor.

According to DonateLife, 98 per cent of Australians believe that organ donation has the potential to save and improve lives. Yet some people might be concerned about certain organs that they would not be willing to donate. This is not an obstacle. When you register, you can choose which organs you would like to donate. Donations can involve organs such as kidneys, heart, lungs, liver and pancreas. It can also involve tissue, including heart valves, bone tissue, skin and eye tissue.

The value of organ transplantation is made most clear when you look at organisations like the Lions Eye Donation Service, a joint venture between the Lions clubs of Victoria and southern New South Wales, the Centre for Eye Research Australia, the University of Melbourne and the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital. They receive eye tissue donations from thousands of generous donors.

Human donor corneas are needed in order to alleviate corneal blindness. A cornea transplant is the surgical procedure which replaces a disc shaped segment of an impaired cornea with a similarly shaped piece of a healthy donor cornea. It is important that organisations such as the Lions Eye Donation Service and the many donors who have taken the initiative to register for organ donation are recognised and celebrated this week.

As we know, the shortfall in organ donations is very significant. There are more than 1,000 people on organ donation waiting lists but only 279 donations were made in 2009-10. One organ and tissue donor can save up to ten lives. Indeed, as I said, before 2010, 309 organ donors gave 931 Australian a new chance in life.

I would like to place on record on behalf of the coalition my strong appreciation for those doctors and medical staff who ensure that we have the medical capability to save lives through organ donation as well as those Australians who have made the commitment to register as organ donors. If we can raise awareness and new donors, we will be raising hope for so many families whose lives will be transformed.