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Calls for opt-out system for organ donation as AMA urges Canberrans to 'give the gift of life' this Christmas

by December 23, 2016 General

For six months Rosie Leonard woke each morning desperately hoping it would not be the last time she would see her children.

The Canberra mother had suffered from cystic fibrosis all her life but her health rapidly deteriorated in July 2014 when she caught a virus that dropped her lung function to 12 per cent.

Rosie Leonard with her sons Shay,8, Fin,15 and Jamie, 19, received a double lung transplant 18 months ago and is ... Rosie Leonard with her sons Shay,8, Fin,15 and Jamie, 19, received a double lung transplant 18 months ago and is passionate about raising awareness of organ donation. Photo: Elesa Kurtz

“I began to feel like I was slipping away really fast, like I was disappearing,” Ms Leonard said.

Fortunately her excruciating 24 weeks spent on oxygen ended with a life-saving double lung transplant.

Now she is urging Canberrans to spare a thought for the 1,6000 Australians spending Christmas waiting for their lifeline, any of whom will likely never get one.

She has joined the push from support groups for the Australian government to consider a presumed consent – or opt-out – system of organ donors to urge Australians to discuss the issue with their families.

Co-founder of Aussie Transplant Mates ACT branch Steve Williams said he was regularly asked why Australia had not followed the lead of several European countries in having some form of presumed consent.

Currently Australians must record their desire to donate with the Australian Organ Donor Register, but once they have died their family can overturn those intents.

Based on the experiences of countries such as Singapore, Austria and Belgium, an opt-out system could lift the organ donation rate by 20 per cent in the first few years.

“While our numbers of Registered Organ Donors are growing, we can’t deny there are those in Australia who would donate but never do anything about it and those people would then be prompted to do so,” he said.

Organ and Tissue donor support group Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation has also pushed for the introduction of an opt-out method in recent years.

With Australia unlikely to see an ‘opt-out’ method at least in the near future, Australian Medical Association president Dr Michael Gannon urged people to go take the initiative to register themselves.

“One organ and tissue donor can help more than 10 people by saving a life, improving the quality of life, and restoring bodily function,” he said.

“But only one per cent of all hospital deaths occur in the specific circumstances that allow for organ donation. This is why every potential donor counts.”

Dr Gannon said about 70 per cent of Australians were willing organ donors, and 91 per cent of families agreed to organ donation when their loved one was registered.

But this rate drops to 75 per cent when their loved ones had expressed a desire to donate but had not registered, and 52 per cent when they had not discussed their donor wishes.

 Ms Leonard said she keeps in contact with with the woman who has the heart of the same donor who once had her lungs.

“I think there are quite a few misconceptions with organ donation, like when people think they are too old or unhealthy to donate,” she said.

“But in a lot of cases that’s not true. I am here because of one person who I’ll always be thankful to.”