Myths

Will the body be disfigured? Will I still be alive when they take my organs? Will doctors not save my life if they know I'm an organ donor? Will my body be used for research?

Many people have fears about organ and tissue donation, but most of these fears are usually more myth than fact. Find out the real story below.

  • Consent Process
  • Dead or alive
  • What will happen to the body?
  • Who would want my organs?
  • Others

Consent Process

Ticking the box on your license ensures you will become an organ and tissue donor.
Although in some states in Australia you can still tick a box on your license, this process does not ensure you will become an organ and/or tissue donor. To ensure your wishes are carried out, it's important you talk to your family about your decision and register on the Australian Organ Donor Register. To join the register call 1800 777 203, log onto www.medicareaustralia.gov.au or visit your local Medicare or Centrelink office.

Family and next-of-kin will override your decision to donate your organ and tissue donation.
Even if you have registered 'yes' with the Australian Organ Donor Register, your family or next-of-kin will be consulted in the organ and tissue donation process. It is rare for a donation not to go ahead because the family or next-of-kin do not agree with their loved one's decision. Most families or next-of-kin will carry out a loved one's wish if they know what it is.

On the other hand, if they don't know your decision, their decision is made much harder, and it is possible donation will not go ahead. Talking to your partner, family and friends about donation is crucial.

Dead or alive

If I agree to donate my organs, my doctor or the emergency room staff won't work as hard to save my life. They'll remove my organs as soon as possible to save somebody else.

When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life € not somebody else's. You'll be seen by a doctor whose specialty most closely matches your particular emergency. You will not be treated by a transplant physician, who works solely with transplant candidates and recipients. The doctor assigned to your case has nothing to do with transplantation.
Maybe I won't really be dead when they sign my death certificate. It'll be too late for me if they've taken my organs for transplantation. I might have otherwise recovered.
Although a very common myth, in reality, people never "recover" after they are declared brain dead. In fact, people who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests to determine that they are truly dead than are those who haven't agreed to organ donation.
In Australia all organ and tissues are only removed from people who have been diagnosed clinically and legally dead. In order to donate organs and tissues, a person must first be declared dead according to strict criteria, which are outlined in legislation.

What will happen to the body?

I want my loved one to have an open casket funeral. That can't happen if their organs or tissues have been donated.
Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open casket funeral. If organs are taken, the body is sutured as if the person were alive and had undergone surgery. The body is clothed for burial, so the stitches aren't visible.

The body will be disfigured and mutilated.
Organs and tissues are removed by highly trained surgeons, in an operating theatre, like any other surgical procedure. The person is treated with the utmost respect and dignity. At the end of the operation there will be one surgical incision, which is sutured closed and covered with a dressing as in all operations.

With tissue donation such as skin, a very thin layer of skin similar to a sunburn peel is taken from the donor's back and thighs. For corneal donation, a thin layer slightly larger than a contact lens is taken from around the iris and replaced by a clear plastic lens. Most people would not notice any difference in appearance.
If I become an organ donor, my organs will be used for medical research.
Separate and specific permission is required for donated organs and tissues to be used for research. Donated tissues and organs will be not be used for medical research unless explicit written permission is granted.

My loved one has suffered so much because of his/her illness. I don't want him/her to suffer any more.
Your loved one is dead at the time of donation and cannot feel pain. Even after death, your loved one's body is treated with the same degree of respect as is given a living patient.

Who would want my organs?

I'm too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.
Anyone from the age of 12 months up to the age of 90 can potentially become an organ and tissue donor. Many people rule themselves out of organ and tissue donation because they think they are too old - but contrary to common brief even when you're 90 you could still potentially improve the life of someone else.
The decision to use your organs is based on medical criteria, not age. Don't disqualify yourself prematurely. Let the doctors decide at your time of death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

I'm not in the greatest health, and my eyesight is poor.
Very few medical conditions or 'bad habits' automatically disqualify you from donating organs. The decision to use an organ is based on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not viable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Others

Each year in Australia there are thousands of people who become organ donors after they die.
Each year there are only approximately 200 organ donors across Australia. This figure equates to Australia having one of the lowest organ donor rates in the developed world and around 100 people dying each year while waiting for an organ transplant.
Although less than one per cent of deaths occur in such a way that organ donation is possible, the organ donation rate could be dramatically improved if more people discussed their wishes with their partner, family and friends and registered their decision on the Australian Organ Donor Registry.

My family will be charged for donating.
The organ donor's family is never charged for donating. Your family may be charged for the cost of all final efforts to save your loved one's life (depending on the hospital) and those costs are sometimes misinterpreted as costs related to organ donation. Government meets the costs for organ removal. If you receive a bill for what you believe are costs related to organ donation, talk to your organ donor coordinator. Funeral expenses are still the responsibility of the donor's family.

Organ donation is against my religion.
Organ donation is not in conflict with the beliefs of all larger religious denominations in Australia. This includes Catholicism, Protestantism, Muslim and most branches of Judaism. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on donation, ask a member of your clergy.