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Thursday, 13 November 2008
Page: 35

Senator HUMPHRIES (1:06 PM) —The incorporated speech read as follows—

I welcome any move to increase the rate of organ donation in Australia. This bill goes some way to help drive Australia’s donation rates up, but it is a missed opportunity for this body to consider important alternatives to the current donation regime in Australia.

There were just under 200 deceased donors in Australia last year and conversely there were 1,757 people on organ waiting lists. Australia’s organ donation rate, at around 9 per million people, compares quite unfavourably with many other countries. For example, Spain has the highest donation rate in the world, namely 34.3 donors per million people. Belgium has a rate of 28 donors per million people and Austria has 23.6 donors per million people. Australia’s rate of 9 per million people falls far behind these countries. The question is what do they do differently? The answer is they have an opt-out donations system.

An opt-out system, whereby consent to donate one’s organs is presumed unless the person opts out or their family objects to the donation, would improve donation rates and save lives. A person who did not wish to donate their organs would have to opt out, for example through a register, and families of a deceased person would still be able to object to the donation.

A report by Abadie and Gay in the Journal of Health Economics in 2006 shows that countries with an opt-out system have on average organ donation rates 25 to 30 per cent higher than of countries with opt-in systems.

At the 2020 Summit, a recommendation was made that Australia move to an ‘opt out’ system for organ donation. However, debate on this subject has been shut down and the Government does not seem interested in even putting the subject on the table.

We have seen many initiatives over the years to encourage people to sign up as organ donors while they are healthy. This bill alone will not lift Australia off the bottom of the league table of organ-donating countries. Creating an oversight body will help promote best practice and national co-operation but it is not the whole answer to the bridging the incredible shortfall between donors and those on waiting lists.

If we could improve our donation rate by twenty five percent by implementing an opt- out system as has been suggested by Abadie and Gay, that’s an extra fifty donors each year who will give the gift of life to Australians currently in limbo. But with our donation rates already so low, there’s no suggestion that we have room to improve beyond that.

With over 1,600 Australians in a life-or-death limbo wondering whether they will be among the lucky few to receive an organ, mere advertising and promotion is not good enough. Best practices and a national body to set standards and co-operation goes some way but it does not go all the way.

While I support this legislation, I also point out that we have missed an important opportunity to consider the benefits of an opt-out scheme of presumed consent for organ donations.