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Festival of Obvious Ideas #2: Compulsory organ donation

If people didn’t donate their tissue and organs to others, the following people wouldn’t have contributed nearly as much to the Australia we know: Kevin Rudd, Derryn Hinch, Kerry Packer, Jimmy Little, Fiona Coote…

Plenty of organ donation recipients, like Fiona Coote, have lots of heart. Pic: Brisbane Sun

We’d be a lot poorer for it. But Australia is already a poorer country than it could be. There are plenty of sick people who need organ transplants but can’t get them. Australia has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in the developed world. There are some 1,566 Australians on the waiting list for a transplant right now and every week an Aussie dies waiting for a kidney transplant.

The way to ease this crippling shortage is breathtakingly obvious. When you die, your organs should automatically go to someone who needs them. End of story.

Your kidneys, your liver, your lungs, your pancreas, heart, intestine or stomach – none of any use to you when you’re lying in a coffin – could be used to give the gift of life to someone who needs it.

Of course, if you or your family didn’t want you to donate, you wouldn’t have to. You could opt-out. That would replace the opt-in system we’ve currently got, that just not enough people are opting-in to.

Right now, you can become an organ donor in two ways. You can sign up to the national registry. Or, if you live in New South Wales, the Roads and Traffic Authority will ask you if you want to be an organ donor when you renew your driver’s licence.

In the first case you have to be proactive – and lots of people just aren’t. In the other example, you get asked about it at a time when you haven’t really put much thought into it. And you’re probably already outraged about having to hand the NSW government an obscene amount of money so you can drive a car.

Not everyone can be an organ donor. You need to be disease-free and your organs need to meet a particular standard. Not many people die in circumstances that allow them to donate their organs. So plenty of wannabe donors end up being ineligible to donate their organs. That’s why we need as many people as possible donating their organs.

Spain, Belgium, France, Norway, Italy all have laws that make organ donation automatic. They’ve all got much higher rates of organ donation than we do, too.
A number of other countries have also come up with some big ideas about how to get more people to donate.

A UK Council on Bioethics has put forward the idea of having the British government pay for the funerals of people who donate their organs. Some medical schools often cover the burial or cremation costs of people who donate their bodies to science, so the idea’s got credibility.  Likewise, in Israel if you’re an organ donor you get priority if you need a transplant yourself.

Who knows who these countries could be saving – a future head of state, a charity worker, a scientist, a media mogul. So why don’t we jump onboard? What good are your organs when you’re dead anyway?

About Darin Sullivan (1969 Articles)
President of the Fire Brigade Employees’ Union and a professional firefighter with more than 25 years’ experience. I live and work on the NSW South Coast, Australia. I am a strong advocate for firefighters and emergency service workers with an interest in mental health issues and caring for those around me. I am a Director on the NSW Fire Brigades Death and Disability Super Fund and work with charities including ‘The Movember Foundation’. As a leader and activist I have long been active in the campaign for action on climate change. I am a Station Commander in the fire and rescue service in NSW and have 30 years experience fighting fires, both rural and urban. I am passionate about highlighting the impact climate change is having on fire preparedness and fire behaviour in Australia, and the risks associated with inaction on climate change. I am also a spokesperson for the Australian Climate Media Centre.
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