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The real hoax of organ donation

By Chris Devir - posted Tuesday, 19 June 2007


The Dutch “reality” show matching a dying woman’s kidney to three potential recipients has been exposed as a hoax and received much publicity around the world. But what exactly is the hoax?

In Australia we have an organ donation rate of 11 in one million. Let me repeat that, 11 in one million. Yet, 83 per cent of people say that they are willing to be organ donors. We have about half the donor rate of the USA and third of the rate in Spain. Forget about the math, the bottom line is that most people want to be organ donors, but the reality is that nearly no one actually is. What is going wrong?

The hoax is that we make ourselves feel smug by saying we support donation, but the figures reveal that our support is basically non-existent. Australia has one of the lowest donor rates in the world and there are no signs that things will be getting better in the future.

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This is national tragedy that no one is willing to confront. We have to move beyond the “tick the box” approach and face some hard realities. Organ donation needs a higher profile. Not just in the newspapers and on our televisions but around the dinner table, around the watercooler and over a schooner in the pub.

The reality is that when the time comes to make the most difficult decision on whether the deceased will donate organs, there is a huge breaking down of wills by both hospital staff and the family. Rather than treating every person as a possible donor it seems it is only in extraordinary cases that a donation is actually made.

A commitment has to be made: a bond between family members that they will support each other and respect the donor’s wishes. In fact, organ donation is much more than an individual’s decision. It’s a decision that has to be backed by the whole family, the doctors and medical staff so the broader community may benefit.

In some ways, we are too flippant about saying we will be donors. We need to prepare ourselves for organ donation.

Become a committed organ donor. Do research, visualise the situation, ask questions, find answers … prepare yourself. And commit your family to your decision.

Hospital staff, and especially the doctor making the request to the deceased’s family, are under immense pressure: the concept of organ donation makes us go weak at the knees. Hospitals are putting into place new procedures, modelled on overseas success stories like those in Spain, which has one of the best organ donation rates in the world. While hospitals can always improve their methodologies the whole process falls apart if consent is not forthcoming.

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If you are prepared it can relieve the pressure later. In many ways, it can even be an uplifting moment for the deceased’s family.

Just think of those waiting for an organ transplant: life without an organ transplant is a harrowing prospect. Kidney transplants make up the biggest proportion of people waiting for transplants, and while there is a treatment for ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease), it is expensive, invasive and time-consuming.

Dialysis involves inserting two needles, the size of knitting needles, into your arm and sitting attached to a machine for five hours-a-day, every second day - for the rest of your life. It restricts your ability to work, go on holidays and maintain a normal life. Yet transplant is a simple operation and can change someone’s life.

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About the Author

Chris Devir is a freelance writer from Bondi Junction. He has set up his blog The Political Monster and he is currently reseraching a book on politics and the media.

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