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Ecumenical service of thanksgiving for organ donors and their families, St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney, Saturday, 30 May 1998: address on the occasion.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF AN ECUMENICAL SERVICE OF THANKSGIVING

FOR ORGAN DONORS AND THEIR FAMILIES

SYDNEY - ST ANDREW’S CATHEDRAL

SATURDAY. 30 MAY 1998

Each year, in my Australia Day address, 1 endeavour to draw attention to certain issues and causes which seem to me to be o f particular national importance.

This year, I sought, among other things, to draw the attention o f my fellow Australians to the wonderful goodness, the compassion and the life-enhancing - indeed, often life-giving - generosity o f those people who at the point o f death become organ and tissue donors, and their families who make the gift possible

In doing so, I was influenced partly by a realisation o f the sheer significance o f the statistics. Last year, for example, 190 Australians became organ donors. Their generosity helped just over 700 people through direct organ transplants, and a great many others through cornea and tissue transplantation In fact, it’s been suggested that one donor can assist up to 8 other people to regain a quality o f life previously denied them due to chronic illness.

Then, too, I was influenced by the effect on both Helen and myself o f the opening o f the World Transplant Games in Sydney last September which we had been privileged to attend It was a remarkable occasion, where 1200 men, women and children, who had received organ or tissue transplants, gathered to compete in a celebration o f courage and compassion. Courage by the recipients who had triumphed over adversity - and extraordinary compassion by the donors and their families who, despite their own loss and sadness had made that triumph possible.

Both before and after that Australia Day broadcast I have also been affected by other personal experiences I mention two o f them. Within recent weeks, a family friend - a young mother o f extraordinary courage who has suffered a great deal - received the gift o f renewed life and a new beginning from a deceased organ donor. Conversely, late last

year, the widow o f one o f my closest friends told me, when speaking o f the Transplant Games, that the fact that she had given authority for a transplant o f his corneas had had a profound effect in helping her cope with her grief.

That is an experience, as many here today well know, that is not uncommon among grieving families who feel that the gift o f life or health through an organ donation is at

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least one positive thing to come out o f a tragic death It is, as the Red Cross Blood Service reminds us, an act that gives meaning to the great cycle o f life and death. It reflects the manner in which the donor wanted to live his or her life and to be remembered in death.

Today’ s Annual Ecumenical Service o f Thanksgiving, organised by the Australian Red Cross o f which Helen is National President, bring together donor families and recipients and others who wish to acknowledge their generosity, including members o f the health and medical profession, for a time o f reflection and remembrance. And o f thanksgiving for those who, in death, gave life to others. Today’ s service also anticipates National Organ Donation Awareness Day tomorrow, and marks the beginning o f Kidney Week which w ill see tomorrow’s launching o f the Australian Kidney Foundation’ s new organ donor card.

It is true there are some Australians who have religious or other objections to organ and tissue transplants. We must respect such objections. But for those o f us who have no such objections, I sincerely hope that this and other ecumenical services being held throughout the country in the course o f this week, the changes now under way to further develop and co-ordinate donor services and the various community education and public awareness programs, w ill encourage many more o f our fellow citizens to seriously consider becoming donors. Currently, there are at least 3000 Australian men, women and children on organ and tissue waiting lists. Sadly, unless things change and the numbers o f donors dramatically increase, a significant number o f them w ill die before a suitable transplant becomes available. Thus, for example, 2 persons on average die each week o f the year while vainly waiting for a kidney transplant.

In conclusion, let me again acknowledge the extraordinary compassion, selflessness and love o f one’ s fellow beings that motivates both those who become organ donors and the members o f their families who, as I say, make possible the realisation o f the donors’ wishes. Let me also acknowledge the skill and commitment o f the medical profession and the work o f the Red Cross, the hospitals and other organisations and all their staff, their volunteers and their supports whose dedication makes organ and tissue transplantation possible for the community at large. I express my gratitude to them all, not only at this ecumenical service and on this special day, but for every day o f the year.