I was a little surprised and perhaps even disappointed to learn today, the Australian Organ And Tissue Donation believe any contribution to the funeral expenses of deceased donors has the potential to undermine and damage donation and transplantation programs.
Further that contribution to a deceased organ donor's funeral may carry the inherent risk of stigmatising deceased donation and create divide between different socioeconomic groups.
When you consider that to become a deceased donor you firstly must die in very particular circumstances and in Australia that number is just under 2000 per year. You must die in a hospital and be on life support. Your family upon learning of your death must give their consent for your donation to proceed. In most cases your death will be sudden and untimely and with very few exceptions will be the cause of immense grief and suffering for your family and loved ones.
Most people who die in these scenarios are not registered donors on the Australian Organ and Tissue Authorities organ's donation intention register. Many of the people are children who could never be registered donors. In all cases the family of the deceased person will be asked to make some considerations.
They will be asked if they will consider giving consent to their loved one's organs being donated to save the lives of strangers.
They will be advised that in order to do this they must consent to the hospital keeping the person on "life support" long enough for tests to be conducted and surgery to retrieve the organs to be performed. They will be comforted and reassured that all due care taken and compassion shown. They will be advised that their loved one will receive the best surgical care and can even have a funeral with an open casket if that is what the family want.
They may even get offered a small number of grief counselling sessions to help them cope with the loss of their loved one.
What the family will not be offered is any offer to assist with funeral expenses.
As you will see from the OTA response on behalf of the Minister for Organ Donation, this is considered
Deceased Donor Organ Commercialism. (DDOC).
The irony of this, is that the OTA commercialise the registration process. The OTA pays professional sporting bodies to promote the altruistic nature of the act of donating, they fund eleborate sporting events to promote the good health and good fortune of the recipients of deceased organs. The OTA also fund advertising campaigns to reach the 14 million Australians who have not registered their intent to be organ donors including funding games to target gen Z audiences.
I truly appreciate the response from the CEO of the OTA on behalf of the Minister and for confirming that assisting donor families with funeral expenses, is an initiative that would not be supported by the Australian Organ and Tissue Authority as a part of the National Program to increase deceased organ donations.
I appreciate that the OTA will persist in pursuing registration of intent to donate as the key focus of increasing donation rates, but sadly, COVID aside, the rates have been in decline since 2019.
I am passionate about the need for change in focus and increasing the awareness of the role unsuspecting families play in organ donation.
Without Next of Kin Consent deceased organ donation does not exist whether we maintain the costly opt in system we have now or moved to deemed consent. The importance of the role families play in decision making for deceased loved ones can never be underestimated or overlooked.
No family wants to become a donor family, as it means they are suffering the significant and often sudden loss of a loved one.
Therefore I truly believe that the ethical issues associated with the funeral expenses as well as grief counselling and other support for donor families should be explored.
I will continue to advocate strongly for such consultations.