Will the body be disfigured? Will I still be alive when they take my organs? Will doctors not save my life if they know I’m an organ donor? Will my body be used for research?
Many people have fears about organ and tissue donation, but most of these fears are usually more myth than fact. Find out the real story below.
MYTH: It’s my choice – I don’t need to discuss it with my family
FACT: Your family needs to know. They will be asked to confirm your decision. Preparing your family beforehand so that they are comfortable being part of the process is crucial.
Of the 36% of Australians who feel confident they know if their loved ones are willing to be a donor, 93% say they would uphold their wishes.
On the other hand, if they don’t know your wishes, their decision is made much harder and it is possible donation will not go ahead.
To ensure your wishes are carried out, it’s important you talk to your family about your decision and register on the Australian Organ Donor Register. Or join the register by calling 1800 777 203, or use your existing myGov account, or visit your local Medicare or Centrelink office.
MYTH: I’m already registered on my driver’s licence. I don’t need to do anything else.
FACT: If you previously recorded a donation decision on your state driver’s licence, it no longer exists and you still need to join the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR). It only takes a minute. You can no longer register to be an organ and tissue donor on your state-based driver’s licence. South Australia is the only state where residents can still record a donation decision via their driver’s licence.
MYTH: If I am a registered donor, doctors or the emergency room staff won’t try as hard to save my life. They’ll remove my organs as soon as possible to save somebody else.
FACT: The doctor’s first priority and focus is to save your life. You’ll be seen by a doctor whose specialty most closely matches your particular emergency.
Organ and tissue donation is only considered when the person has died or death is inevitable, at which time the Australian Organ Donor Register is checked and the family is asked to confirm their loved one’s donation decision.
MYTH: Organ donation is against my religion.
FACT: All major religions support organ and tissue donation as an act of compassion and generosity.
All major religions including Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism support organ and tissue donation.
The organ and tissue donation process can accommodate religious and cultural end of life requirements.
If you’re unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith’s position on donation, ask a member of your clergy.
MYTH: My family will be charged for donating.
FACT: The organ donor’s family is never charged for donating. Your family may be charged for the cost of all final efforts to save your loved one’s life (depending on the hospital) and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Government meets the costs for organ removal. If you receive a bill for what you believe are costs related to organ donation, talk to your organ donor coordinator. Funeral expenses are still the responsibility of the donor’s family.
MYTH: Each year in Australia there are thousands of people who become organ donors after they die.
FACT: In 2018, 1,782 lives were transformed by 554 deceased and 238 living organ donors and their families.
Australia is a world leader in successful transplants and while our donation rate has more than doubled in recent years, there simply aren’t enough donor organs for everyone who needs them.
Around 1,400 Australians are currently waitlisted for a transplant. A further 11,000 are on dialysis, many of whom would benefit from a kidney transplant.
With less than one per cent of deaths occurring in such a way that organ donation is possible, hundreds of people die each year while waiting for an organ transplant.
The organ donation rate could be dramatically improved if more people discussed their wishes with their partner, family and friends and registered their decision on the Australian Organ Donor Registry.
MYTH: My loved one will suffer even more than they did during their illness or cause of death.
FACT: Your loved one is dead at the time of donation and cannot feel pain. Even after death, your loved one’s body is treated with the same degree of respect as is given a living patient.
MYTH: If I become an organ donor, my organs will be used for medical research.
FACT: Separate and specific permission is required for donated organs and tissues to be used for research. Donated tissues and organs will be not be used for medical research unless explicit written permission is granted.
MYTH: The body will be disfigured and mutilated.
FACT: Organs and tissues are removed by highly trained surgeons, in an operating theatre, like any other surgical procedure. The person is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. At the end of the operation there will be one surgical incision, which is sutured closed and covered with a dressing as in all operations.
With tissue donation such as skin, a very thin layer of skin similar to a sunburn peel is taken from the donor’s back and thighs. For corneal donation, a thin layer slightly larger than a contact lens is taken from around the iris and replaced by a clear plastic lens. Most people would not notice any difference in appearance.
MYTH: My loved one can’t have an open casket funeral if their organs or tissues have been donated.
FACT: Organ and tissue donation doesn’t interfere with having an open casket funeral. If organs are taken, the body is sutured as if the person were alive and had undergone surgery. The body is clothed for burial, so the stitches aren’t visible.
MYTH: I’m not in the greatest health and my eyesight is poor.
FACT: Very few medical conditions or ‘bad habits’ automatically disqualify you from donating organs. The decision to use an organ is based on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not viable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.
MYTH: I’m too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.
FACT: Anyone from the age of 12 months up to 90 years old can potentially become an organ and tissue donor. Many people rule themselves out of organ and tissue donation because they think they are too old – but contrary to common belief even when you’re 90 you could still potentially improve the life of someone else.
The decision to use your organs is based on medical criteria, not age. Don’t disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.