I rise today to speak about the issue of organ donation. It is rare to find an act of human kindness and generosity greater than that of the donation of an organ to another human being so they may continue to live. It is truly one of the most unselfish and compassionate of acts. We have seen the generosity of people like Nick Ross, who made a kidney donation to his ailing employer, the late Kerry Packer. Remember Mr Packer’s comment that it was one of the greatest gifts one could give?
I wish to address today the donation of tissue after death and some of my concerns regarding this delicate matter. Members will recall that organ donation received much publicity when the late and great David Hookes was tragically killed more than two years ago. After David’s death, the David Hookes Foundation was established with the objectives of: increasing the number of organ donors; increasing the public awareness of the need for organ donors; and educating families to support the decision of their loved ones to donate organs. I wish to share some important facts about organ donation that can be accessed on the David Hookes web site: www.davidhookesfoundation.com .
As at January 2005 there were approximately 1 600 Australians awaiting a transplant. One in five of those on the waiting list will die before an organ becomes available. In 2004 there were 218 donors, who helped 782 people, who were able to be removed from the waiting lists. In 2003 there were 619 organ transplants from 179 donors, but in the same year just under 100 died, sadly, while waiting. One organ donor can save or dramatically improve the life of up to 10 people.
Current legislation is state and territory based and is covered by human tissue legislation. In essence, the legislation states that a person can choose to be a donor and donation may proceed until the wish is reversed or where the family maintains a sincerely held objection. Interestingly, and in what I think is a commonsense ruling, in Western Australia a family cannot legally override consent. Where the deceased’s wishes are not known, consent for organ donation rests with the next of kin. Whilst 96 per cent of Australians are supportive of organ donation, only 54 per cent who die become donors because in 46 per cent of cases the family refuse to consent.
I am particularly passionate about the David Hookes Foundation’s objective of educating families to support the decision of their loved one to donate organs. It is vital that we speak openly with our family about our choice to donate tissue after death, as this goes some way to avoiding confusion and heartache in what is already the most trying of circumstances. In South Australia the rules for the donation of tissue after death are detailed in the Transplantation and Anatomy Act 1983. A specific section of part 3 of the act stipulates that the senior available next of kin of the deceased person has a right to object to tissue removal from the deceased person.
While I am mindful that some people do not wish to donate due to religious or cultural beliefs, I struggle to understand why some people object to their deceased loved one donating organs when they have already indicated their choice to do so on their driver’s licence. When a person completes a will, their final wishes are unable to be changed after they die. I am firmly of the view then that, when a person indicates their intention on their driver’s licence to donate their organs after death, this too should be respected and should be the sole basis for the decision to remove organs from the deceased. At the same time, I respect that many people have differing views to me on this most sensitive of matters but, nevertheless, I strongly encourage debate on the issue.
My hope is that this parliament will shortly revisit debate on the matter; and, hopefully, members will be able to exercise a conscience vote on whether an individual should be given sole responsibility to give consent for their organs to be donated. I strongly encourage members to discuss the subject with their family and friends and consult with members of the community to gauge public interest in an amendment to the current act. It cannot be denied that this is a matter of life and death.