The Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Cairns, Thanksgiving Service, 7 May 2009
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7 May 2009
Thank you, Loren, for your warm welcome and for the wonderful work you do to help support people involved in the organ donation and transplantation process. I’d also like to acknowledge your employer, Queenslanders Donate, for the life-saving work they do to coordinate the state’s deceased organ and tissue donations.
I feel privileged to be here this evening to celebrate the memory of those people who gave the ultimate gift – the gift of life. They have each helped to improve the lives of up to eight organ transplant recipients, some of whom would not have survived otherwise. Today also gives us an opportunity to give thanks to the family members who gave the final consent for donation at a time of great personal loss. Without you, organ transplants would not be possible and lives would not be saved through this procedure.
Here in Australia, surveys and opinion polls indicate that more than 90 per cent of the population supports the idea of organ donation. Add to this the expertise Australia has as a world leader in clinical outcomes for transplant patients, and one could be forgiven for thinking that sick Australians wouldn’t need to wait long for an organ transplant.
Unfortunately, this is not the case. Australia has a longstanding shortage of organs available for transplantation; at any given time, there are around 1,800 Australians waiting for an organ transplant, and some of them will die before a suitable organ becomes available.
There are obviously significant social and economic impacts arising from the under-supply of organs for transplantation. People waiting for a transplant require debilitating, time-consuming and expensive treatment. It is hard – if not impossible – for adults to continue to work, and their ability to spend quality time with their families and friends is generally greatly reduced. Children waiting a long time for an organ donation can miss out on a significant part of their childhood, while their parents suffer the anguish of watching their child’s health deteriorate.
However, the generosity of donors and their families – like many of you here this evening – have helped increase the number of organ donors to 259 last year, an increase of 31% from 2007. This number equates to a national deceased organ donor rate of 12.1 people per million of population. The number is also the highest since transplantation began in Australia in the 1960s.
Since the 60s, more than 30,000 Australians have received the life-saving and life-transforming gift of organ or tissue transplantation. Many of these Australians have had their lives dramatically improved because of these procedures, enabling them to have families, contribute to the community and live active lives. This includes our own Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who as many of you would know was the recipient of a heart valve transplant some 17 years ago.
The Australian Government has heeded the call to lift Australia’s performance in organ and tissue donation. Our new national plan for best practice in organ and tissue donation will ensure that 2009 is looked back on as an important turning point for organ and tissue donation and transplantation in this country, bringing together governments, clinicians and the community to create a world-leading, coordinated and consistent national system.
It is based on the critical elements of the national systems and practices found in countries that lead the world in organ donation and transplantation rates like Spain, the United States and Belgium. The most successful countries all have nationally consistent and coordinated systems that extend into local hospitals, and are supported by ongoing community and professional education. Australia will now join them.
This is an issue that is above politics and we’re pleased that the Opposition and the states and territories are backing our plan.
The national plan will be implemented by the Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority which was established on the first of January this year and is already up and running and getting on with the job.
Shortly, a public information campaign will be developed to give Australians the facts about organ and tissue donation for transplantation so that they can make an informed decision.
While communications activity in recent years has been successful in increasing the number of Australians registered as organ and tissue donors – with more than 5.5 million Australians now signed on to the Australian Organ Donor Register – the increased registrations have not translated to more organs and tissue being donated. The focus of future communication and education activity will therefore highlight that the most important action we can take individually is to discuss our wishes with our families so that they can be confident in confirming our decision to donate at an emotionally difficult time.
Our investment in national community education and awareness will give Australians regular, clear, factual and relevant information about organ and tissue donation, the benefits of transplantation, and how they can make a difference.
Communication is only part of our plan; we are funding dedicated organ donation specialist doctors and nurses in public and private hospitals. These new networks of clinical specialists will work to optimise organ and tissue donation. Australia’s health ministers endorsed these new roles and responsibilities last December, and the states and territories have already begun recruiting staff.
Furthermore, we are adding new funding for hospitals to meet the additional staffing, bed and infrastructure costs associated with donation activity. We are also be providing funding for a new national eye and tissue donation and transplantation network.
However, none of this would be possible without the final consent of a donor’s loved ones, and with that in mind, it’s only appropriate that we also enhance the support provided to them, which we will be doing.
The importance of talking to your loved ones about organ donation is the key message, and it cannot be stressed enough. We are all familiar with the story of Doujan Zammit, a young Australian who last year tragically succumbed to injuries sustained while he was holidaying in Greece. Doujon's wish was for his organs to be donated and through this donation he provided the gift of life to four individuals who were in urgent need of organ transplants. A young Greek Australian who was being treated at an Athen's hospital for fatal heart disease was one of these four recipients.
Doujan's parents had discussed organ donation with their son before he went overseas. They knew what he wanted, and they gave their final consent to donate his organs when he died. On Transplant Australia's website, Doujon's father, Oliver, has said: “Doujon had made it clear to us that his wish was to be an organ donor. “Although it was a difficult and emotional decision we as a family wanted to respect his wishes. “I urge all families to discuss the issues concerning organ donation.
I’d like to conclude by giving thanks for the generosity of those people no longer with us who gave someone the ultimate gift of life. I’d also like to give thanks to their families and loved ones here today who made this life giving decision. You have played an incredibly important part in giving transplant recipients a second chance at a healthy life.
Thank you and all the very best.
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