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Monday, 28 February 2011
Page: 1728

Mr HAYES (1:02 PM) —Last year 309 organ donors gave 931 Australians a new chance in life. Despite these being the highest numbers for a decade, regrettably this still leaves 1,700 people on the Australian organ donation transplant list. These individuals are often on the list for anywhere between six months and four years. If you are very desperate for a donation, four years is obviously a very, very long time to wait, and this can be very detrimental for those that are in urgent need.

Despite having one of the highest rates of success for transplant operations in the world, Australia has one of the lowest donation rates in the developed world. Considering the well-known Australian spirit that we will always lend a hand and help out, it is safe to think that the reason why there is a lack of donation is really a lack of awareness and of the discussion that leads to donation. It is well known that the majority of Australians support organ donation.

The government’s national reform package that has recently been introduced with the agreement of the states is truly a significant step forward in raising awareness of the issue of organ donation. It is a much-needed effort to significantly increase the number of people who are willing to—and, more importantly, are aware of how to—give the gift of life. The $151 million for the organ and tissue donation national reform package is a crucial step towards increasing awareness of this highly significant issue and informing members of the public.

As a part of this reform, the government has funded 150 dedicated doctors and nurses and 60 ancillary staff in 76 hospitals. This is for work specifically on organ and tissue donation as part of the DonateLife network. We often put ourselves in the hands of our doctors and obviously we put our trust in their judgment. The trust that the public has in our medical staff should also be treated as a great resource in assisting in driving up the rate for organ donation.

In approaching this issue, it is crucial to understand that one in three Australians do not know that their family member has consented to organ donation. Clearly, once someone tragically dies and there is a bereavement, organ donation is not the first thing that comes to the minds of the bereaved. Organ donation is the gift of life, yet so many people do not know how to give the gift. Despite an individual deciding to become an organ donor, their family still has to be asked to give consent to donation if the situation arises, so when you make the decision to give somebody the gift of life it is absolutely critical to talk to family members so they are comfortable and confident in your decision. The discussion will make saying yes much easier for family members and will minimise the sense of doubt and, possibly, regret. It is much easier for your family to have the discussion now rather than at the time of a tragic loss.

That discussion is particularly significant if we keep in mind that 93 per cent of Australians say that they would uphold the donation wishes of their loved one if they were aware of them. It would be extremely sad if an individual missed out on a chance for a fresh start in life simply because the family of a possible organ donor was not aware of their loved one’s wishes. In urgent circumstances, the 40 per cent of Australians who do not know the views on organ donation of their loved ones can make a difference to someone living or dying. That is why it is important to have Donate Life Week and all its events. The week is for us to raise awareness and to encourage people to have discussions and consider their choices.

On average every organ donor in Australia contributes between three and 10 transplants. It is important for individuals to be aware of the potentially tremendous contribution they can make to others. Also, it may be difficult, but it is important for everyone to imagine the situation from the reverse perspective, the situation of someone giving life, hopefully, to one of their own family. I think that probably adds to the judgment call in becoming an organ donor. Each one of us could give another family the opportunity to experience a feeling of hope and gratefulness in a difficult situation. I call on all Australians to have a family get-together to discuss the issue of organ donation and to at least become aware of the options available to loved ones.

I have mentioned before the family of Debbie Roberts, who is a friend of mine. Her daughter Rebecca died in 2002 at 20 years of age. Before her death, Rebecca, a very forthright young woman, spoke up and made her intentions about organ donation very clear to her mum. Thankfully, Debbie, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Youth Solutions, respected her daughter’s wishes. As a result of Rebecca’s donation four people were given a remarkable gift. Two received a kidney and another two received Rebecca’s corneas. Debbie has graciously shared with me correspondence that she has received from the four recipients of Rebecca’s organs. It is very touching correspondence and it is very touching to see the effect that her organ donation has had on families. The letters show how profoundly people’s lives have been affected and enriched and how life has been given through Rebecca’s selfless decision to donate organs should she die. We owe Rebecca and many like her an enormous debt of gratitude for their decisions to donate their organs. I know Debbie well. Knowing and understanding her daughter’s wishes in respect of organ donation clearly made it a lot easier for her to consent to organ removal at the time of Rebecca’s death, a time of very great sadness for Debbie.

Debbie Roberts’s experience demonstrates, quite frankly, the hard reality of not only going through the pain of loss—in this case, that of her daughter Rebecca—but also having the pride and contentment of knowing that, through Rebecca’s selfless attitude to life in that giving of life itself, her daughter has left a legacy that is now living on today through other people. All Australian men and women should consider organ donation and sign on the Australian Organ Donor Register, as one Australian’s choice today can mean the difference between life and death for another Australian tomorrow.