There are two different types of organ donation in Australia: Living donation and deceased donation. Being a living donor usually involves donating a kidney or partial liver to a relative or close friend in need. In contrast, being a deceased donor refers to organ and tissue donation after you have died.
Deceased organ donation involves removing organs from someone's body after they have died to give a seriously ill or dying person a chance to survive.
The person who receives the organ transplant is known as the ‘recipient'. In Australia you have to register to become an organ donor but even after registering, it is ultimately your family who decides what happens after a person's death.
It is also possible to donate your body to science. Your organs and tissue will then help with medical research or training.
Crucially however, you can't choose to do both.
If you have opted for organ and tissue donation, your body will become ineligible for scientific research. If you want to donate your body to science you will need to register with a specific university or medical institution as there is no overarching body which manages body donations.
Being a deceased donor refers to the donation of vital organs like the heart, lungs, liver or kidney after you have died.
The following organs can be donated after you die:
Parts of the eye.
To become an organ donor you need to register with the Australian Organ Donor Register.
This can be done online in less than a minute by filling out a form with your name, date or birth, email address and your Medicare number. You can also register through your existing MyGov account, through the Express Plus Medicare App or by printing out and filling out a physical form and posting it back to the Services Australia office in Hobart.
For some people, becoming a potential donor is against their beliefs or personal preferences. It's important to register this preference, as it ensures that you cannot become an organ or tissue donor after you die- as ensured by the Human Tissue Act 1983.
Once you register your interest it is essential you have this conversation with your family members, as your next of kin who will need to give consent on a donation decision after you die.
Organ donation is regulated under the ‘Human Tissue Act' in each Australian state or territory. The legislation is partnered with an ethical framework guided by the National Health and Medical council.
Regulations are similar across the country, and operate under an informed consent, or ‘opt-in' model. This means, the individual must have given written approval to register as an organ donor before they die, and family members will confirm the decision before a transplant takes place.
The Ethical Practice Guidelines include the following principles:
Donation of organs and tissues is an act of altruism and human solidarity (e.g it is done on a voluntary basis for the benefit of other human beings);
Organ transplantation should only be undertaken when it is believed that it provides a benefit to the recipient;
The method of transplantation should respect human dignity, the wishes of the deceased and give precedence to donor's needs and their family's needs over the interest of the recipient;
The process for determining someone's eligibility to receive an organ donation should be equitable and fair; and
The decision not to donate should be respected and adhered to.
Additionally, organ and tissue donations can only take place if you die in a hospital. This is because in order for the procedure to be possible the person needs to have been artificially ventilated for their organs to be suitable for transplantation. The two situations where organ donation is possible are:
Brain death (when the brain stops functioning); or
Circulatory death (also known as DCD).
Brain death occurs when blood and oxygen stops flowing to the brain in the case of a stroke, or some kind of brain injury. Circulatory death usually occurs when doctors stop life-saving treatment for someone in an intensive care unit or emergency department. In this situation, donation can only go ahead if the person dies within 90 minutes of their treatment being stopped.
Almost anyone can donate organs and tissues in Australia. While age and medical history does play a part in eligibility for organ donation there are very few medical conditions which prevent organ donation, and it is ultimately up to the medical professionals to determine whether or not your organs are medically suitable.
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