When is the right time to discuss organ donations with students?

When is the right time to discuss organ donations with students?

The latest research from the Australian Organ Donor Register (AODR) suggests there could be around one million young Australians who are keen to register but haven’t.

The organisation’s latest report shows that 37% ‘want to, but haven’t gotten around to it’, 30% had 'not yet considered it' and 25% 'want to register, but don’t know how to go about it’.

Young Australians are also more likely to believe in common organ donation myths, the top two for young people were ‘concern the doctors wouldn’t try as hard to save their life if they're a registered donor’ and ’that their organs would not be suitable’.

In a recent survey conducted by YouGov Galaxy, 88% of respondents aged 18-25 were aware they could register to be a donor but just 14% reported having signed up.

And the actual number of young Australians registered is even less.

In Australia, a person can register from the age of 16 and the AODR shows just 8.1% of those aged 16-25 are currently on the register.

Dr. Brooke Huuskes is a lecturer in Human Anatomy at La Trobe University and holds a PhD in regenerative medicine (renal) as a Doctor of Philosophy. Brooke is also the Chair or Transplant Australia, Victoria/Tasmanian Branch.

Below, The Educator asked Dr Huuskes her about her own experiences as an organ donor and how she believes schools should engage young people about this important issue.

TE: How has your transplant shaped your own views on this issue and how would you encourage students to register, and what would you say to the students who are unsure about signing up?

BH: From a young age I have always liked the thought of helping people. Holding a door open for someone, picking up and returning a dropped item to someone, being a "practice patient" for medical students... doing selfless things and expecting nothing in return feels good! Organ donation is the ultimate selfless thing you can do for someone. Every kids dreams of being a superhero or having super powers, and the amazing thing is, as adults we can be that. Every transplant recipient thinks their donor is a hero. A hero who has literally saved a life just by doing two simple things, registering at www.donatelife.gov.au and having the chat with their family about organ donation.

TE: What is the level of engagement like when it comes to schools and young people on this issue?

BH: According to DonateLife, a recent survey found that young people aged between the ages of 18-25 do in fact know what organ donation is, but either have not thought about their decision, did not know how to register or made the assumption they couldn't be a donor because of lifestyle choices. I think organ donation can be perceived as a difficult topic to talk about in households because it usually involves death (unless the discussion is around living donation), and topics like organ donation are just not on your radar when you are young. That is unless, you have had a personal connection with someone who has been sick and actually needed a transplant. If you are young and you know someone who has had a transplant, then you have seen first-hand just how important and, literally life-saving, organ donation can be. How do we engage young people around this topic? It is a really difficult question to answer, however I do believe it has a lot to do with education and removing the taboo around the topic.

The Educator also spoke to Lucinda Barry, CEO of the Organ and Tissue Authority (OTA).

TE: How do you think Australian school leaders should broach the topic of organ donation to Australian students and what do you think is the ideal age group for schools to have this conversation with?

LB: You can register as an organ donor from the age of 16 so it is never too early to start the discussion about organ and tissue donation. We know everyone dies, and what we want to happen to us at the end of our life is something you should talk to your family about. Normalising conversations about what organ donation is, hearing personal stories from donor families and transplant recipients and understanding how it can save and change lives is hugely important.

TE: Why do you think fewer people are signing up to be organ donors, and how might this be turned around?

LB: It’s not that people don’t want to be donors, the majority of Australians support organ and tissue donation. Generally those who are not registered do want to but haven’t got around to it yet, or are willing to donate but are unsure how to do it. Among young respondents not yet registered, 37% ‘wanted to register but hadn’t got around to it yet’ and a quarter (25%) reported being willing to donate but are unsure how to do it.

We have made registration a quick and easy process. You can register online at donatelife.gov.au in one minute – all you need is your Medicare card. People can also register easily through their myGov account.

6.7 million Australians aged 16 or over have registered to be a donor, but we need more because organ donation is a rare event and only around 2 per cent of people who die in hospitals can become organ donors.

TE: The YouGov Galaxy survey found that 37% of people had been put off by common organ and tissue donation myths. What are some of these myths and how can they be dispelled?

LB: One of the most common myths that under 25s believe is that if they turn up to hospital as a registered organ donor that the doctors and nurses won’t try to save their lives. This is simply not true. The doctor’s number one priority is to always save your life. Organ donation is only considered when you are dead, or dying from an injury or illness that you will not recover from.

Another common myth about organ donation is people thinking they can’t be a donor because they are unhealthy to become a donor. People who smoke, drink or who don’t have the healthiest of lifestyles can still donate. You should register, tell your family, and if you are in the situation to become a donor, let the doctor decide.