Page 605 - Week 02 - Thursday, 17 February 2005

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There are some interesting statistics that I have come across which provide an important backdrop to the decision. Last year, during the marketing of Australian Organ Donor Awareness Week, Joanna Gash told us that people are 20 times more likely to need an organ themselves than they are to donate one. More than 60,000 Australians have received transplants in the last 60 years. While over 90 per cent of Australians support organ donation in principle, only 54 per cent of people who suffer brain death become donors. This is largely because the families who must make the decision to donate are not aware of the potential donor’s wishes and are, of course, reluctant to make such a decision without this knowledge. The message here, as Mr Smyth emphasised, is to tell your family if you are happy for your organs to be donated. However, only one per cent of deaths occur in circumstances where organ donations can be considered. But then, as has already been mentioned, one donor can help save, potentially, up to nine lives. Unfortunately, almost 2,000 Australians are currently waiting for an organ or tissue donation and some will die before a suitable donor becomes available. In 2003, 140 people died while waiting for an organ transplant.

While these issues are important ones for people to consider when making their decision, I have a couple of concerns worth putting on the record. First of all, it is vital to recognise that each person makes these decisions in a particular cultural and personal context. Australia is a multicultural community and all members of our community must be confident that their cultural, ethical, spiritual and religious views are respected. No pressure should be brought to bear on individuals or their families to agree to organ donation; nor should financial inducements be offered. Any donation should be seen as an act of giving by the departing person and the feelings of the recently bereaved family are vitally important and must be acknowledged and respected. There may well be need for counselling.

My second concern is that it is absolutely essential that the transfer of organs remains within the “gift” economy. We are already seeing a growth in the international trade in organs. As with other such trafficking, as I mentioned yesterday in respect of the trafficking of girls and women, the trade in organs is based on unequal conditions, where poor people, either voluntarily or involuntarily, give up an organ because a wealthy person is prepared to pay for it. Too easily this leads to breaches of human rights. In China, there are accusations that, following execution, bodies of condemned prisoners are transferred to hospitals for the harvesting of organs.

In India it is well known that there is an underground market in organs involving organised crime gangs with wealthy visitors from other countries prepared to pay middlemen. There are stories of families unable to raise a dowry for their daughter being asked, “But hasn’t your daughter got a spare kidney?” Most of us do not think of our second kidney as spare. In Brazil, the market for transplanted organs is fuelled by what is called “compensated gifting”. We need to make sure that we do not take the path being considered by the American Medical Association of offering financial incentives to encourage people to bequeath their organs after death.

While endorsing the aims of this organ donor awareness week, I want to suggest that members envisage organ donation as a social exchange. We must take care that we do not allow organs to become a market commodity in this country, where the ability to buy organs becomes another market differentiating rich from poor. Extending the lives of one

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