Patients on donor list deserve opportunity to live

OPINION 

NSW has the lowest organ donation rate in Australia.

In fact, if NSW's performance was compared internationally, it would sit outside the top 30 in worldwide rankings, only ahead of countries such as Cuba and Belarus.

Last year, out of 215 potential organ donors in this state, only 77 actually donated. In some instances there may be medical reasons, but the majority of the remaining 138, an individual, most often a family member, said "no", sometimes overriding their deceased relative's wishes. 

As a result of such decisions, one in six people waiting for a donor - including many in the Illawarra - die before they receive the transplant that could have saved them.

Gruelling wait for kidney transplant

People like my good friend Brittany, who at just 18 years old recently passed away while waiting for a lung transplant. She didn't deserve to die - she deserved to be given an opportunity to live.

An opportunity which, in a country such as ours, in a state such as ours, she should have had.

In late September, the NSW Parliament passed amendments to the legislation on organ and tissue donation in the state.

A standout of the strategy is the scrapping of the counterproductive driver's licence system of registration, in favour of Medicare's Australian Organ Donor Register as the central system of registration and consent across the country.

The plan also importantly focuses on systemic change through training specialist clinicians in our hospitals to better help families deal with decisions on organ donation.

The state government says it will provide guidelines for doctors to help them uphold a deceased patient's desire to be a donor. However, little will change here, as the family and next of kin continue to have the absolute power to decide and often say no, vetoing that patient's own decision to donate.

I commend any government that takes proactive steps towards increasing organ and tissue donation rates and raising awareness by having the issue on their agenda.

But as someone who is passionately invested in this cause, I feel it could have gone further.

The strategy could have been bigger and bolder, to better enhance our donation system to world's best practice and results.

The people needing a transplant don't have the luxury of waiting for gradual change.

They are the ones I speak and fight for - I've been in that desperate situation myself. But while I was fortunate enough to be saved by a transplant, so many like Brittany aren't.

We each have a moral interest in this - you or someone close to you is actually far more likely to need a donated organ than to ever end up donating yourselves.

This means we cannot be complacent about organ donation.

People power will make the real difference to the levels of organ donation we need to see in NSW - more than any law.

It is up to every person to talk about donation with those close to them and share the gift of life by being an organ and tissue donor.

Jessica Sparks underwent a double-lung transplant in 2009 at the age of 17. Currently an intern at the Illawarra Mercury, the University of Wollongong student is the founder of non-profit organisation Sparking Life, which raises awareness about organ donation.

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