Australia Talks shows that 4 out of 5 of us would donate our organs after we die, so why didn’t we sign up?
When 18-year-old Georgia Bourke had a seizure during a game of touch foot, her family and community were suddenly robbed of a bright and funny young woman.
But in the midst of their trauma, the Bourke family made a decision that helped Georgia save a life, and it was all thanks to a conversation around the table years earlier.
“As a family we have always had the conversation that if something happened to any of us, no matter how difficult it was, we really thought that becoming an organ donor was really, really important. Georgia’s mother Mary Bourke said.
The Bourkes aren’t the only ones who have their take on organ donation. In fact, 4 in 5 Australians – 81% – say they would be quite or very likely to donate their organs when they die, according to the Australia Talks National Survey 2021.
But only 1 in 3 people have registered their intentions with the Organ and Tissue Authority, also known as Donate Life.
It is this gap between intentions and actions that donor families like the Bourkes, as well as transplant recipients and experts in the field, are trying to bridge.
How does organ donation work in Australia?
Australia has a membership system for organ and tissue donation. This means that if you are happy that your organs (including heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, and pancreas) or tissues (skin, bones, tendons, and ligaments) are donated to someone who needs them. after you die, you need to take action.
It is in this registration process that registration takes place. For most Australians, that means registering through the Australian Organ Donor Registry – even if you’ve already checked a box on your driver’s license consenting to organ donation.
The driver’s license system has been phased out in all states and territories except South Australia.
You can register online with your Medicare card number through the Australian Organ Donor Registry website or through your existing myGov account.
Intention is not the only factor that determines whether your organs can be donated after your death. Only about 2% of people who die in Australian hospitals meet the criteria, or 1,300 per year.
DonateLife CEO Lucinda Barry said enrolling more Australians was crucial.
“I think most people have busy lives. And so you really have to go one step further to sign up… it takes less than a minute of your time,” she said.
Ms Barry said family conversations are extremely important because even if you are registered family members will be consulted to confirm your decision.
“The option to donate really only arises if you’re in an intensive care unit. And usually you’re on a ventilator, so you can’t make that decision. So whatever the system, families are. involved, “she said.
If you are also registered, these chances are up to 90%.
How do you approach the subject of organ donation and death with your family?
It might not seem like the most enjoyable conversation at the table, but donor families say it’s much easier than the alternative.
For the Bourkes, this conversation took place six years before Georgia died in 2014.
Georgia, described by her family as “the light in everyone’s life”, was playing at her local playground in Goondiwindi, a small town in Queensland near the New South Wales border, when she s ‘collapsed on the ground. Her younger sister Mikayla came running as soon as she realized Georgia was down.
“I just thought it was her ankle or something. I ran over to her to make sure everything was okay. But it wasn’t what it seemed,” said Mikayla, now elderly. 18 years old.
Georgia had a brain aneurysm that led to subarachnoid bleeding, which happens when an aneurysm ruptures and bleeds into the space between the skull and the brain. She was transported from Goondiwindi to Princess Alexandra Hospital (PA) in Brisbane.
The bleeding was fatal. It was the same condition that led to the deaths of Georgia’s aunt, Toni, in 2008 and her father, Rod, in 2012. Toni’s bleeding was catastrophic, but her organs were able to be donated to transplant recipients. after his death.
It was after Toni’s death that the Bourkes decided they would all want to donate their organs if the unthinkable happened.
“Because I’ll tell you, it’s a lot easier to have a conversation now when everyone’s alive and sitting at this table than when you’re in a hospital ward and you have to make that decision. “
How does it feel to receive a life-saving organ donation?
Georgia Bourke’s family have no idea who received the organs she donated after her death. The Australian system is confidential, so donors and recipients generally don’t know who is on the other end of the equation or what the process looks like to them.
Annette Todd says it’s hard to express in words what it feels like to have a transplant. She only had a few weeks to live when she was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis in 2019.
Annette was quickly transported from her home in Cairns to PA Hospital in Brisbane for emergency treatment – the same hospital where the Bourke family made the decision to donate organs from Georgia.
Doctors tried everything to save Annette’s liver, but she was quickly put on the transplant list.
An infection meant Annette had to be placed in an induced coma, and at one point she was so ill that she was taken off the transplant list because doctors didn’t think she would survive.
For Annette, the gift that her donor’s family gave her by consenting to the donation is a gift that she still struggles to understand.
“I will be eternally grateful, but it is very difficult to express how you feel. You think about it every day,” she said.
“I just think how wonderful they are [the donor] are, that they made this decision and that their family also accepted the donation. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. “
We are a generous nation – but it’s time to settle this administrator of life
Ms Barry of Donate Life said data from Australia Talks shows Australians want to help.
“Australia is a generous nation. What we really need now is for people to go and register at donatelife.gov.au, and most importantly, tell their families that they would love to be a donor. they have the opportunity. “
Since recovering from her liver transplant, Annette has signed up to be a donor herself and spends her free time as a community champion encouraging others to do the same.
For the Bourkes, this decision is part of the legacy left by Georgia.
“It can happen to you in an instant. I never thought I would be a donor mother, not in my lifetime. And I’m sure my kids never thought they would be siblings either. ‘a donor,’ Mary Bourke mentioned.
“But if you have this conversation – it might make a difference.”
The Australia Talks National Survey asked 60,000 Australians about their lives and what keeps them awake at night. Use our interactive tool to see the results and compare your answers.
Then, tune in at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, June 21 to watch hosts Annabel Crabb and Nazeem Hussain walk you through the key findings and explore the survey with some of Australia’s most beloved celebrities.