Becoming an organ donor is a final gift to potentially save or drastically transform a life, but many people are still unsure how to become an organ donor. This article explains what’s involved with organ donation in Australia.
What is organ donation?
Organ donation is an effective and well-established medical procedure, where an organ or tissue is removed from a donor’s body and transplanted into another person’s body.
Most commonly, organ donation is done after death. However, some organs, like a kidney or partial liver, can be donated while the donor is alive. Living organ donations are usually given to a relative or close friend who has end-stage kidney disease or liver failure.
Organ transplants rely on the availability of donor organs and tissues. This essentially comes down to the generosity of individuals to register their wishes and their families to provide permission.
If an organ transplant is needed at the time of death, the deceased person’s next of kin will be asked for permission. They must give their consent before any procedure goes ahead and they have the option to override the deceased person’s wishes. This is a decision that usually needs to be made immediately.
That’s why it is important to discuss your decision with your family, even if you have formally registered as a potential organ donor. Grieving family members may be more sensitive than you expect about how your body is treated after death, so make sure they understand your feelings about organ donation.
Which organs and tissues can be donated?
Donor organs and tissues are commonly the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys and pancreas. But donor skin, bone tissue and eye tissue may also be used for medical treatment.
Who can become an organ donor?
In Australia, almost anyone can donate organs and tissue after their death, to eligible organ transplant patients. Organ or tissue donation do not affect funeral arrangements, which can usually happen as planned.
You must be aged 18 years or over to register their consent for organ donation. However, people aged 16 or 17 years can register their interest to donate their organs after death.
While age and medical history will be considered, donors can be younger and less healthy than most people think. Even people who lived in the UK during the time of the ‘mad cow disease’ can still become an organ donor, but cannot donate tissue.
According to Donate Life, all major religions support organ and tissue donation for transplants.
How do I register to become an organ donor?
If you wish to become an organ donor, you can register your consent on the Australian Organ Donor Register or through your existing myGov account. The national register allows you to record your decision to become an organ or tissue donor. The register allows you to list your decision to donate for transplants, including which organs and tissue you want to donate.
In some Australian states, you may indicate your intention to be an organ donor on your driver’s licence.
Helpful answers to some frequently asked questions about becoming an organ donor are available on the Donate Life website. For further information about organ donation, visit call the Australian Organ Donation Register on 1800 777 203.
How to provide consent to become an organ donor?
After registering your consent to become an organ donor, it is important to let your family know of your wishes. When you die, your family will have the final say about donating your organs and tissue. They may be more likely to honour your wishes if they knew about your decision in advance.
If you wish to either donate your organs or your body, this is a decision your loved ones may need to make immediately after your death, so it’s no use mentioning it in your Will as it will be too late by the time the Will is executed. Instead, preparing an organ donor consent form is an excellent way to make your intentions to become an organ donor clear.
Below is an organ donation template form that you can use to help ensure your wishes about organ donation are honoured when you die. You can write or type it out onto a separate clean sheet of paper.
Organ donation consent form template
On your sheet of paper, write down your wishes to donate either part or all of your body for medical or scientific use. The below is an example that you can copy:
ORGAN DONATION FORM
I, _______________ of ______________________ direct that after my death, wish to donate all of my organs and tissues for medical treatment of others. This does/does not include scientific research.
Alternatively, if you don’t wish for specific organs to be used, use the below section instead and include only those which apply:
I, _______________ of ______________________ direct that after my death that only my: □ Bone tissue □ Eye tissue □ Heart □ Heart valves □ Kidneys □ Liver □ Lungs □ Pancreas □ Skin tissue may be used for medical treatment of others. This does/does not include scientific research.
My blood type is ______________________
Store the organ donor consent form with your important documents either loosely with your Will or advance care plan, or in a separate envelope. But DO NOT staple or attach it in any way, as it will invalidate the Will. Let your family or executor know it exists and where to find it. You might even give a copy to the executor of your Will.
How do you donate your body to medical science?
You can’t use the Organ Donor Register to donate your body for medical research, as body donation is different from organ donation. That is because only a single part of the body is required for organ donation, but the whole body is used when donating your body to science.
Organ donors can usually register for a body donation program as well, but if organs have been removed, the body will be rejected for donation to science. Whilst you may be registered in both programs, there is no guarantee that you would be required by either program when the time comes.
To find out where you can donate your body to science and for more information about body donation, read our article Donating your body to medical science in Australia: What you need to know.
Donating your brain to dementia research
All types of brains are needed for medical research into dementia. Brain donations help researchers progress towards finding the cause of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. To become a registered brain tissue donor, contact your nearest Australian Brain Bank.
More information on brain donation is also available at Dementia Australia or by calling the National Dementia Helpline on 1800 100 500.
Final thoughts on becoming an organ donor
We hope you find this article on how to donate your organs, helpful.
As mentioned earlier, once you have decided to be an organ donor, it is important to let your executor and family know. Ultimately, the decision will lie with them, but knowing your wishes in advance should make the decision easier for them.
To plan ahead with a pre-paid funeral, visit the Bare Cremation website here, or give us a call on 1800 202 901. We can also take care of your estate planning needs. Chat with our estate planning lawyers on (03) 9917 3388 or visit our estate planning website here.