The truth about organ donation

37 per cent of older Australians assume they are too old to donate.

Organ Donation, Older Australians, Myths, Truths, Tissue, Eyes, Heart, Lungs, over 65, seniors, doctors, Catherine King

New research released last week by the Organ and Tissue Authority has found that 81 per cent of Australians 65 years and older are willing to become organ and tissue donors, but 37 per cent assume they are too old to donate.

The research also revealed that only 71% of participants understood that family is always asked to confirm the donation wishes of the deceased and 28% of participants have never had a discussion with their family members about their donation wishes.

"Age is not a barrier to becoming an organ and tissue donor. In 2011, 54 Australians aged 65 or over saved or improved lives by donating their organs including lungs, kidneys and livers. Older Australians also donated tissues including corneas which help to restore and improve the sight of others. While the median age of all organ donors last year was 50 years – there was a very broad age range with the oldest organ and tissue donor in 2011 being over 85 years," said Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing Catherine King.

Comment – Keep your hands off my organs

Organ donation is a subject I find hard to consider as it conjures thoughts of death for myself or a loved one. I decided about six weeks ago it was time that I shared my thoughts with someone in my family, so I sat down with my mother. As soon as I mentioned the subject, she interrupted me hurriedly with “they can take anything they want, just not my eyes”. We both had a laugh and I then made clear my wishes of not wanting my organs to be donated. My mother made some very good points about donation during our discussion which made me want to seek more information on the subject and to reconsider my stance.

My online research into organ donation revealed that there is a huge difference in the type of donation that can take place. Organ donation (kidneys, lungs, heart, liver, pancreas and intestines) is possible when a person dies suddenly and is declared brain dead in hospital, which is only about 2 per cent of all deaths each year.

Tissue donation is the most common form of donation as it occurs when a person dies a biological death where their heart and lungs stop functioning. These donations can include bone, heart valves, veins, skin, ligaments and tendons which can significantly improve the quality of life for the recipient. It is estimated that one in 20 people will require some type of tissue transplant during their life, making donation even more important.

While I don’t like the idea of a doctor harvesting my body for parts after I pass away, I can’t take them with me into the next life (just like money). I will be changing my wishes this week to become a full organ donor.

Have you expressed your wishes to your family? Why or why aren’t you going to donate your organs when you die?

Read more from www.donatelife.gov.au





    COMMENTS

    To make a comment, please register or login
    talofa
    28th Jun 2012
    12:54pm
    at over 70y.o. i am on the donor list & i have no family whatsoever
    i believe that we all become stardust (atheist) i have no problem with
    death per se but i am concerned about how i will die...hopefully
    with little pain
    sandyfaye
    28th Jun 2012
    1:13pm
    I just received my forms from QUT (Brisbane) last week to donate my body to medical research. I sent the 'next-of-kin' form to my eldest daughter and her comment was - "good on you, how good is that".

    I'm not intending to pass on for quite a few years yet, but thought I may as well be prepared and, anyway, the money saved on the cremation can go towards the party everyone will have in my absence. I hope they raise their glasses to me a few times.
    Reppie
    28th Jun 2012
    2:06pm
    As you mentioned Drew, our organs are of no use once we die.

    I have elected to be a donor for many years now, but, the problem is and this happens a lot, that the family have the final say, so all the authority I have, can be over-ruled in the end by well meaning family. I figure once I am gone, I won't need them again anyway, but if someone else can either survive longer, or have a better quality of life, then go for it, take whatever can be "recycled"!

    We need a system where the person involved has the ONLY say on this.

    My kids know my wishes and I trust they will do what I want in the long run!!
    aquatrek
    1st Jul 2012
    2:01pm
    Reppie - put those wishes in writing and sign them and stick them with the will.
    Joybells
    28th Jun 2012
    3:08pm
    Organ donation is a very emotional subject with a lot of people. Some for religious reasons and others can't talk at all about dying. While we must respect this, what good are our body parts rotting in the ground or as ashes sitting on a mantlepiece? The person we were is gone and if we can, it is a wonderful thing to allow your organs to give life or sight to someone who still has a life ahead of them.Sadly Australia has a low organ donation rate and each year children ,mum, dads, grandparents, pass away for lack of a "part" to fix them.I agree if you have signed as a donor NO one should be able to block that decision.All my family are donors and they all know my thoughts and wishes on when I do pass on-a long time away I hope.

    28th Jun 2012
    3:19pm
    I've been on the organ doror list since it started.. but something sandyfaye said has made me wonder about my funeral arrangements. I've stipulated that I'm to be cremated so that my daughter can then do whatever she wants to do with my ashes; the reason being that Mother died overseas and her will stated that she wanted her ashes to be scattered on Sydney harbour at a specific place, and I really regret that there isn't somewhere for me to go to speak to her (I know, but it's an emotional spiritual thing).
    It hadn't occurred to me that my body will be taken elsewhere.. I will have to look into that!
    PS: Have just read that a team attends wherever the body is (hospital?) and funeral arrangement are as normal; that's good as I have two funeral policies!
    Reppie
    28th Jun 2012
    3:26pm
    I am under the impression that organs are harvested immediately upon death. Bodies donated for scientific purposes are always, I believe, like organ donors returned to the families as intact as possible, and presentable, if viewing should be requested.
    Joybells
    28th Jun 2012
    6:45pm
    Reppie How does one go about finding information on donating your body for scientific reasons?Have sorted out the organ donor situation but interested in the other option too.
    aquatrek
    1st Jul 2012
    2:05pm
    Universities have donor programs. Keep both your donor cards [uni and Oz govt] together as the uni should have 1st priority as the death must be as near as possible to the hospital - they wont fly you around the country hehe
    sandyfaye
    28th Jun 2012
    4:16pm
    The truth is, if you donate your body to one of the major Universities or hospitals doing medical training or research and they accept it (they don't always), then they will do the cremation when you stipulate. You can choose up to 3 years or eternity. I chose eternity. When they are finished, they notify the next of kin, cremate the body and the 'rellie' picks up the ashes. If you want to be an organ donor at the same time, usually it can be arranged. The Hospital takes the organs they need and then ships you out to the Research/Training facility. All very organised.

    It could be a bit difficult to return the body 'as intact as possible' after they have finished. QUT seems to have it figured out and cremation by them is the best choice.

    Pip has it wrong. If you are an Organ Donor then that is all you are and, yes, the family gets you back.
    Anonymous
    28th Jun 2012
    5:29pm
    Sorry, what am I wrong about? I didn't say that I was anything but an organ donor.. and if you had read my PS, put onto my comment prior to posting, you would have seen that I had 'just read' something (because I obviously wanted to know) and that was the site 'The truth about organ donation'. Your initial comment gave me the wrong impression.

    As previously stated by me, 'It hadn't occurred to me that my body will be taken elsewhere.. I will have to look into that!
    PS: Have just read that a team attends wherever the body is (hospital?) and funeral arrangement are as normal; that's good as I have two funeral policies!
    genimi
    28th Jun 2012
    4:17pm
    wow, morbid discussion today! my father wanted to be an organ donor - he said he didnt think he had worn out his corneas! - but he died from cancer and that makes donation out of the question. My son tells me he would like to be an organ donor - I still have not decided for myself.
    Histoman
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:20pm
    genimi, you don't say how old your son is, but if he wants to be an organ donor, then for goodness sake don't stop hi. IT IS HIS BODY, NOT YOURS. If you love him, respect his wishes; who knows it could be your husband in a twist of fate that could do with his organs.But would that make a difference as to whose husband it was?
    JJ
    28th Jun 2012
    5:38pm
    In truth, very few people actually get to have their organs used for donation. There are very strict criteria used to determine the viability of an individuals organs, and the situation of the donor. Irreversible brain death while the body is still living for starters (this doesn't happen very often), and the body in good health physically. Then access to specialized care in an Intensive Care Unit in order to keep body chemistry at the correct balance, with ventilator support. The most common cause of death which can lead to organ donation is that of brain damage, often by motor vehicle accident, provided that internal organs have remained undamaged. The organs are removed while the donor is still living, otherwise the organs themselves would have started to die. The exceptions are the corneas, which can be removed after death, and sometimes the kidneys also can be used (but a living donor is preferable).

    It can be quite confronting for relatives to find out at the last minute that the organs are taken while the donor is still living, because that can cause them to feel that the donating is the cause of death. But those families who are able to cope with this find it enormously rewarding and comforting to know that a part of their lost loved one is still living and functioning. I know I would feel that way if this happened to any of my own family or friends.
    Crunchy
    30th Jun 2012
    5:21pm
    On what do you base this information, JJ?
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    12:53pm
    I have worked in Intensive Care and seen the process for myself. Of course, brain death must have occurred; the family are given plenty of time to think about and discuss their decision. The whole point is, that soon after the ventilator is turned off the body will die anyway if brain death has occurred. There is very little chance the body could survive as the brain is in control of necessary functions like breathing.
    Reppie
    29th Jun 2012
    9:17am
    Joybells maybe try your local teaching hospital - no idea where you are, but John Hunter in Newcastle is one. Otherwise, maybe the blood bank might know. Sorry I am not much help here.
    Dotty
    29th Jun 2012
    3:46pm
    I am not on the donor list but as all my family are I have told them that if anything is worth taking please let them as they will be of no further use to me once I am gone !!
    Dottie
    Histoman
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:14pm
    Good one Dotty, we are on the Donor register, and carry our Australian Organ Donor card with the registration number in my wallet, and my wife's in her purse/wallet. As you say, you have no further use for them, but someone has !!
    Crunchy
    29th Jun 2012
    8:14pm
    I tell everyone (and it's on my Driver's Licence, of course!) that once I'm physically dead, I don't care if they throw my eyeballs from one side of the lab. to the other! What makes me, me, is not the body, or even the brain, it's my soul and I know where I'll be headed, and that's the part that matters.

    To me, it's like cutting off a too-long fingernail or even some hair. Organ donation will not hurt me and nowhere in the Bible does it state that I must needs be buried intact.

    If I help save a life or make another's life more comfortable, even if it's just so that interns can practice surgery on my body, how good would that be? It gives me a great feeling, to be able to help like this.

    Dominus tecum
    Leonie
    grumpygran
    30th Jun 2012
    10:51am
    There was a case a few months back, I think in Victoria, where a Doctor was thought to have passed away and was left on a trolley, maybe in recovery. A nurse happened to see him an hour later and couldn't believe he moved his little finger. He was still alive!! Imagine if this Doctor had been an organ donor and had his organs removed!! whilst clinically dead, but alive. This is the frightening thing about organ donation - on the most part they get it right but who wants to be the one they get wrong.
    toot2000
    30th Jun 2012
    1:37pm
    You scared the living daylights out of me jj when you said "The organs are removed while the donor is still living, otherwise the organs themselves would have started to die." That's enough to turn anyone off.
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    12:43pm
    Sorry, didn't mean to scare anyone, but it's better to be aware how this works before you are faced with making a decision at a very emotionally difficult time.
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    12:56pm
    The body is still alive, but the brain is not. Thus as soon as the ventilator is turned off the body starts to die, often within minutes. The brain controls many important functions, the most important one being respiratin.
    Crunchy
    30th Jun 2012
    5:48pm
    You'll always get the scaremongers, but, as medical science progresses, less and less of this sort of thing happens.

    I've just found this online, and so I don't believe that one is not dead before harvesting:

    How does the organ and tissue donation process work?
    When a person dies in a situation where they can become an organ and tissue donor, the intensive care medical team raises the possibility of donation with the family. The Australian Organ Donor Register is checked. If the deceased person registered their objection, donation will not proceed. If the deceased person registered their consent or had not registered, a DonateLife coordinator will meet the family to talk about donation.

    The family of a potential donor is given time to discuss and finalise the decision of whether donation will occur for their loved one. This is the same process for potential donors who are children (children under the age of 16 are unable to register decisions on the Donor Register.)
    If donation is agreed to, documentation will confirm the donation and which organs and/or tissue are being donated.

    All hospitals have a quality control process so that a staff member not involved in the clinical process must give authority for donation to proceed following family consent. This part of the process may also involve the state coroner if the circumstances of the person’s death are to be investigated by the coroner.


    Here is the link, if you want to look for yourself: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Organ_and_tissue_donation?open
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:36pm
    I followed you link, and yes that is a good clear explanation of what happens. But if you read it carefully, you will see the part that states that some organs can be taken after the heart stops beating, but before is preferable. If your heart is beating, you are still alive, it is the brain which is dead. If you were to see someone brain-dead on a ventilator you would not be able to see the difference outwardly to someone who is alive.

    I was not intending to alarm anyone, but for people who are serious about organ donation, especially if it is the donation BY their nearest and dearest, it is better to be aware of the facts before being faced with the decision at a very difficult time. And please don't be offended - I'm not trying to be argumentative. I suppose it depends on the individual's interpretation of "death".
    Reppie
    30th Jun 2012
    6:06pm
    Ever heard of "life support"? Yep, people who are brain dead are kept alive until it is time to turn off the machine, and harvest the organs needed.
    Crunchy
    30th Jun 2012
    7:58pm
    Reppie, the life support is turned off when the prognosis is not viable. Not because organs need to be harvested. How would you line up all those who need the appropriate organs, presuming that the organs are known beforehand to be in good enough condition?
    toot2000
    30th Jun 2012
    8:30pm
    Calling all doctors and nurses, please butt in and clear it up.
    Reppie
    1st Jul 2012
    1:14pm
    I believe I used the term "brain dead" which just means that no quality of life would ever eventuate as the brain is no longer working at all. Life support keeps the organs working until family have time to say their goodbye's, and agree to the harvesting of organs, and this ensures the organs remain viable for harvesting. Sorry if I misled anyone.
    Reppie
    1st Jul 2012
    2:03pm
    Good thinking aquatrek, I will do just that!
    Reppie
    1st Jul 2012
    2:07pm
    Thanks for the info aquatrek, always good to lighten the mood with a giggle at times, evenwhen discussing this topic!!
    Crunchy
    1st Jul 2012
    5:48pm
    I'm afraid my overactive and rather frivolous imagination had me picturing Post-It bags with 'Caution: Handle With Care - Live Organs' plastered in large red print over them. On ya, aquatrek! lol

    Might also add, one doctor's idea of 'Brain Dead' is not necessarily another's, and people have come back successfully from such diagnoses.
    Histoman
    2nd Jul 2012
    1:57pm
    This has nothing top do with the family!!! The donor has stated that he/she wants to donate their organs- that is it, -full stop. When I worked at Westmead hospital pathology unit ( I retired from there in 2009 ) and often in contact with the mortuary, I couldn't believe it when the technician there informed me that they have to ask the relatives permission for donation to go ahead. It should not have anything to do with relatives. I was under the impression that legislation had been passed a few years ago, that bypassed asking the relatives. When we lived in NSW, it was marked on our driving licences ( my wife's and mine )that that we were organ donors. That is very important in a fatal car accident, and you are transported to a hospital. If they can get at your pancreas quickly before half an hour someone is going to be lucky, since that is the first organ that starts to digest itself/die. It would be good if Queensland had the same system on their licences.
    Multidisab
    3rd Jul 2012
    3:30pm
    Thank you histoman, I am so relieved here is you who thinks like I do.
    I wanted to apply for 'do not resuscitate' and got a sheaf of papers to be filled out - and with family involvement too! Except for a few my large family is now so distantiated that asking them a question like that is giving them - maybe to spite me - an opportunity to exercise their power over me in ways that does not reflect a true relationship.
    As long as family are not in real relation to the sick person involved, there should be a clause as to who might be willing to be real and loving, and so few are!
    Even parents, and grandparents, who live in the past, mostly can obsess about these things. And then the in-laws who want to be the alpha female, so I avoid them like the plague! I am also all for euthanasia for those close to death, in place of endless medical tests the dying are forced to undergo, because something on a bit of paper gives the medical profession the power to do this.
    Please, let's become real, and have common sense, instead of legalism and buraucracy...
    JJ
    3rd Jul 2012
    3:54pm
    Yes, to me that is rank interference! To deny a family member something that is important to that person challenges every principle of freedom. But that is why it is so important to have this discussion with your next-of-kin before the event of your imminent demise. I wonder if it is possible to have some legal document which could overcome this situation?? Your own power of attorney perhaps?
    Histoman
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:06pm
    As regards age being a barrier in some peoples minds, that is not necessarily so. I am 71, and once a year have a pathology check up for my cholesterol. My liver and kidneys are in excellent condition,(as is my cholesterol) so would be very very useful to some people. Having seen so many people suffering and dying due to lack of organs, I would be only too happy to donate. Remember, the body is a machine, and when it is dead, there is only one use for it, donation.!
    Crunchy
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:11pm
    Utterly agree, Histoman.

    Dominus tecum
    Leonie (who is 53 and working on her health, physical, social, emotional and mental)
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:18pm
    Brain death is assessed using strict testing of certain automatic nerve reactions. These reactions occur even when a person is deeply unconscious, or comatose, as is the case with severe head injuries, strokes and other critical conditions. When brain death is present, these reflex reactions are all absent. And more than one doctor is involved in making the diagnosis, so there is little margin for any error. If any doubt remains, organ donation is not an option.

    There is always a waiting list for organ transplant. The sad thing is that for many the wait is too long, and they die before their turn is reached. Tissue typing must be done while the potential donor is ventilated and stable, and the decision to donate has been made or is pending, and from this typing the first suitable matching recipient on the list is selected and contacted so that he/she can be made ready at the appointed time.
    The organ retrieval team travels to the hospital where the donor is waiting, and the donor is taken to the operating theatre still ventilated and the harvesting procedure is carried out under the normal sterile conditions. When this is over, the donor leaves the theatre without the ventilator, and the usual after-death formalities are carried out.

    The organs are taken as rapidly as possible to where the recipient is waiting so that the minimum of time is lost. The recipient is most often in the theatre waiting for the organ to arrive, and the transplant team is there ready to start. Of course the whole procedure is much more efficient if the two participants are in the same hospital, or even in the same city, but this isn't a perfect world.

    A dear friend of mine (another RN) lost her 19 year-old daughter to a severe epileptic seizure a few years ago. CPR was given by the family until the ambulance arrived, and she was admitted to ICU. As fate would have it, the family had discussed organ donation not long before this happened, so they knew of her wishes and made sure they were carried through. Thanks to this young woman's (and her family's) generosity and courage, seven people benefited from this decision. And her family was left with the knowledge that she lived on in helping others to go on living.
    JJ
    2nd Jul 2012
    2:21pm
    I should add that the whole process is undertaken with the utmost respect, consideration and gentleness toward the donor and the family.
    Reppie
    2nd Jul 2012
    5:14pm
    Beautifully said JJ - you cleared up a lot of things.
    Crunchy
    2nd Jul 2012
    5:35pm
    Agreed, Reppie. Thankyou, JJ.
    DogLover
    3rd Jul 2012
    3:37pm
    I had submitted the forms to donate my body to medical science. When my daughter was a medical student she told me that the cadavers were treated badly and with absolutely no respect and that she would not want me to be treated that way. So I removed my donation details from the University.
    sandyfaye
    4th Jul 2012
    5:18pm
    If you saw how roughly you are treated when you have an operation (sometimes) then you wouldn't worry about how you are treated when you are dead. I've just mailed my forms in to donate my body and my daughter thinks it is the greatest thing that I have done and is proud of me. She is going to chose the chair she will sit on up at Mt Cootha, when she visits me in January, when she throws my ashes onto a specially selected flower garden.
    Crunchy
    4th Jul 2012
    6:37pm
    That's the problem with anaesthesia. I'm allergic to pain, break out in black-and-blue spots (you might know them as 'bruises'), and have a metre-wide yellow streak across my spinal column. I'd kill to avoid violence... No anaesthetic, more pain, great lungs, good screamer. No bad treatment on the operating table. lol

    Given what you have seen, I'm proud of you, too, sandyfaye.
    Crunchy
    3rd Jul 2012
    3:57pm
    As I stated earlier, DogLover, I don't care what happens to my body once I've died a physical death.

    Dominus tecum
    Leonie
    JJ
    3rd Jul 2012
    9:53pm
    I think the reason that medical students joke about with cadavers is that they are usually young, and uncomfortable with the reality of death. Humour and fooling around is a defensive cover for the discomfort that they feel while they are dissecting the body of what was once a living person.
    Crunchy
    4th Jul 2012
    10:41am
    JJ, I believe you are right. I remember, years ago, friends of mine who were both studying Medicine at Adelaide Uni, came in to a shopping centre where I was. They were both laughing hugely.

    I asked the cause of the laughter.

    A fellow student had just been expelled. The reason: "Not treating a body with due respect'.

    Here's the story: The student had approached a lift well where a technician was working, trying to fix the lift. The student asked if the techie needed a hand.

    The techie replied that he did.

    The student threw him one.

    Dominus tecum
    Leonie
    sandyfaye
    4th Jul 2012
    5:21pm
    Back in another one of my lives, I was told by the trainee radiologist who, when he visited the pathology department, quite often saw staff, as they wandered past a bucket with an 'arm' in it soaking in formalin, reach over and shake the hand.
    They probably did this in his presence to give him a stir up.
    Crunchy
    4th Jul 2012
    6:32pm
    lol I presume, to make it easier, it was a right hand? Their own version of fagging, no doubt.
    Barbara Mathieson
    5th Jul 2012
    11:04am
    28 years ago I had my first corneal transplant. 2 years after that my second. I am eternally grateful to the two families involved as I would have been blind if not for them. Unfortunately 2 families had to grieve in my case. Wake up everyone.Barbara


    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles