I rise tonight to speak on the important matter of organ and tissue donation in Australia. Last week Australians celebrated DonateLife Week 2012. The awareness campaign’s sole purpose is to raise the profile of organ and tissue donation in the community, and that is why I rise tonight-to do my part in promoting this very worthy cause.
Sadly, Australia’s donation rates still lag behind the majority of developed countries, ranked only 24th globally in 2010 by the Council of Europe. While any increase in the rate of organ donation in Australia is welcome news, the fact remains that Australia’s donation rate is still less than half that of leading countries, like Spain. There are only 14.9 organ donors each year for every million people living in Australia. Compare this with Spain, where the rate is 35 per million. We can and must do better-lives literally depend on it. That is why today organ and tissue donation is a vital conversation that Australians need to have with their loved ones and friends.
The fact is that in Australia organ and tissue donation cannot not occur without the direct consent of family members. This is still the case when the individual in question has registered with the Australian Organ Donor Registry. Many of those on organ transplant waiting lists face the prospect of dying unless they are able to receive a donated organ in time. As at 4 January 2012, there were 1,628 people on organ transplant lists in Australia. It is a sad but nonetheless true fact that the number of organ donations in Australia cannot currently meet the demand for organs. Tragically, more than one Australian dies every week waiting for an organ transplant. The fact is that these lives can be saved-each person who becomes a donor can significantly improve the quality of life or indeed save the life of up to 10 people. The theme of DonateLife Week is very appropriately ‘discover, decide and discuss’, and it is imperative for Australians to embrace these ideas as we work together to increase donation rates.
In my first term I was very pleased to be a part of the Howard government, which commissioned the National Clinical Taskforce on Organ and Tissue Donation in order to seek evidence based advice on ways to improve the rate of organ, eye and tissue donation for transplantation in Australia. In its final report, the task force attributed Australia’s inability to increase organ donation to a number of factors, chief of which was the fragmented nature of the organ donation and transplantation sector. As such, the task force recommended the establishment of a national coordination and transplantation authority. When these recommendations were finally acted on, the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority was set up in 2009 under the Rudd government’s $151 million reform-a world’s best practice approach to organ and tissue donation for transplantation-but it has had somewhat of a lethargic start at meeting its self-imposed targets, with donation regrettably failing to rise significantly. One of the suggested reasons for our lower than expected organ donation rates is a family’s lack of awareness of their loved ones’ wishes. Our shadow parliamentary secretary for primary health care, Dr Andrew Southcott, has agreed with me that the most common reason cited by families when declining to donate a relative’s organs is that they did not know what their wishes were. I would encourage all Australians to have the organ donation discussion with their family and loved ones.
The coalition has always been in favour of improving Australia’s organ donation rates, but we need to ensure that this is done in the most efficient and effective way possible. Some people might have conditions that prevent them from becoming an organ donor, but almost everyone can be a tissue donor and it is never too late to sign up. With Australians 10 times more likely to require an organ or tissue transplant than to become a donor, it is in all of our interests to sign up and to sign up now.
In conclusion, I leave you with something I once read on a bumper sticker while waiting in traffic: ‘Don’t take your organs with you when you go-heaven knows we need them here.’