I don't understand why our government makes trying to help people harder than being selfish.
From time to time the thought about what happens to my organs if I am killed passes through my mind. For the last 33 years I haven't done anything with those thoughts other than decide in my brain that of course I don't need my heart or anything else if I'm dead, anyone else is welcome to have them.
I then proceed with whatever task I am doing until the next time three years later when the thought passes through my mind or I watch a sad Will Smith movie where he suicides and donates his body.
But recently I decided to do something. I figured it can't be that hard. My licence was being renewed so I guess all I needed to do was tick the box that said donate and that would be it.
But I couldn't find anywhere to tick. "That's weird," I thought. I was sure you got a "donor" stamp on your licence or something.
A bit of googling revealed to me that I had to register with some mob called the Australian Organ Donor Register. No ticking drivers licence boxes since 2004. "Alright, I guess I'll navigate through this government website then."
I discovered that I had to choose whether I wanted to donate specific parts of my body or all of it. I stared at the screen wondering what scenario existed where someone was willing to donate their heart valves but not their heart. What bureaucrat or religion caused this menu to need to exist?
I filled in my details, ticked all the boxes, and clicked "Register". The online form was complete. If I died this week I wouldn't be stressed about my organs going to waste. That was a relief.
I let my wife know I had nobly registered my intent. She was trying to cook dinner, bathe the younger children, get the grocery shopping done and discuss homework with the older kid... it didn't seem appropriate requesting she go and do the same thing right this moment.
I went along my merry way for the following couple of weeks safe in the knowledge that I was a slightly better person than I had been the month before. Until I got a letter in the mail asking me to confirm my online request and sign a form and mail it back to them.
Seriously?! My bank has less security measures than this. Here I am trying to HELP people and they want me to jump through more hoops. I filled in the form again, signed it, enveloped it, and went for a walk to the servo where I posted the letter.
"Good God," I thought. "Are there hackers logging in to government websites after stealing people's medicare numbers falsely registering people to donate their organs? Are these people then murdering those donators so they can have the organs for themselves?" If there are people up to such nefarious schemes, a letter in the post with a signature is a sure fire way of thwarting their dastardly plans... not.
With the letter posted, I started to question how many people would really go to this much hassle to register.
I'm not saying the hassle is not worth it. Let's be clear. I'd do a lot more than fill in a letter if it meant extending someone's life.
I just know how hard it is to get people to vote, click on a link, or respond to a text message. I simply doubt many people would actually do this.
I blame the daily bombardment of advertising for the collective disengagement our brains have all undergone. It's not that we don't care, we just HAVE to disengage to survive the onslaught of signage and media demanding our attention and action.
But at least one person, myself, had filled in the letter and mailed it back. I thought that maybe if I am murdered this week my family will be comforted by the fact that my heart could extend the life of a child, or my eyeballs could go to someone who wants to be able to watch House of Cards (what a great show).
And then a few more weeks went by and I received ANOTHER letter with a printed signature I could not read and no name typed to tell me what the illegible signature said from the Australian Government / Department of Human Services / Medicare / Preventative Health Programs / Australian Organ Donor Register (I think they have a branding problem as well).
In the letter I was given specific instructions to discuss my decision with my family. And there was a card the size of a credit card with my name and some weird number on it.
I stared at the card...
Was I supposed to carry this card with me at all times?
If they drag my body from a car wreck, will they be searching my wallet for my donor card?
I hate carrying a wallet. I usually leave it at home. I have too many cards already that I don't carry around with me.
And why are they telling me I have to tell my family?
The letter contained the following sentence:
In Australia, family consent is always sought before a donation can proceed even if you are registered on the Donor Register.
I stared at the sentence in disbelief. (Lots of staring has happened in this journey.)
Why on earth did I bother to fill in all these forms?
What if my family change their minds?
What if they're so overcome with grief because they love me so much that they can't bear the thought of parting with any piece of my body and my wish to have my skin tissue given away is denied?
What if my family all die at the same time as me?
Do I need to contact my cousins and let them know my wishes?
I'm sure I could spend more time on the internet and find the answers to these questions. Or I could ring the toll free number on this plastic card and someone who's tax payer funded job it is to manage this complicated list will let me know how it all works.
But I've wasted enough time endorsing this ridiculous system by using it.
The system needs to change
There should be no "opt in" system in Australia. I personally have never spoken someone who has told me they would not want their organs to go to someone else if they died.
If there are people out there who for whatever reason need to be buried with their kidneys while some child in Perth stays on dialysis, then let THEM go to the hassle of filling out the forms to opt out.
Here's a something to consider:
Spain has an "opt out" system rather than an opt in system like Australia.
In Spain there are 35.1 million donations per million people each year.
In Australia there are 13.8 donations for every million people, an absolutely woeful statistic, especially considering there are over 1600 people awaiting donations at this moment.
And here's some interesting research published at Medical News Today:
Researchers from the University of Nottingham, University of Stirling and Northumbria University in the UK analyzed the organ donation systems of 48 countries for a period of 13 years - 23 using an opt-in system and 25 using an opt-out system.
The study authors measured overall donor numbers, numbers of transplant per organ and the total number of kidneys and livers transplanted from both deceased and living donors.
They found that countries using opt-out systems of organ donation had higher total numbers of kidneys donated - the organ that the majority of people on organ transplant lists are waiting for. Opt-out systems also had the greater overall number of organ transplants.
If you're an Australian who has a genuine reason for not wanting your organs to go to someone else upon your death, then I feel you should have the freedom to choose that. There are questions over the differences between "death", "brain death" and "cardiac death" and myths surrounding how you'll be treated once you are dead sadly still exist.
But rather than allow people to continue to die who would have otherwise lived had they received an organ in time, perhaps we could shift the burden of action to those who want to opt out, rather than those who want to opt in.