THE passing of Gold Coast organ donation advocate, Leslie Fitz-Gerald, left a poignant reminder of the importance in the selfless act of organ donation.
The cystic fibrosis sufferer was a strong public figure to promote the life changing benefits of organ donation, having received a donation of a double lung transplant when he was in his 20s.
Like his younger brother, Leslie was born with the incurable condition that affects the lungs and digestive system, because the body produces an abnormal amount of thick mucus.
The former stockbroker passed away late October, leaving behind wife Kaylee, who he married at Prince Charles Hospital in February (both pictured).
His brother, Nathan, died from melanoma in October 2017.
According to media reports, a nurse who worked closely with Leslie said he was strongly dedicated to promoting the importance of organ donation right up until his passing.
“His last wish before he died was to make sure something was written about him and his passion,” Gold Coast Donation specialist nurse coordinator Amanda Leitch told the Gold Coast Bulletin.
The waiting lists for organ donations are long.
Around 1,400 Australians are currently waitlisted for a transplant.
A further 11,000 are on dialysis, many of whom would benefit from a kidney transplant.
In 2017, 1,675 lives were transformed by 510 deceased and 273 living organ donors and their families.
Donate Life makes a point of dispelling myths surrounding organ donation on their website.
One of them is that seniors are unable to donate organs.
While age and medical history will be considered, no one should assume they are too young, old or unhealthy to become a donor.
Age is not a barrier – people over 80 have become organ and tissue donors.
Organs that can be donated include the heart, lung, intestine, pancreas, and tissues include heart valves, other heart tissue, blood veins, bone, tendons, ligaments, skin and parts of the eye.
People with decision-making capacity have the option to record their consent to donation of organs and tissues on the Australian Organ Donation Register.
You can fill out your intention to consent to organ donation in less than a minute at the Donate Life website, using your Medicare card.
You can also register via the Department of Human Services website, using your existing myGov account, via the Express Plus Medicare app.
Organ and tissue donation is only considered when a person has died or death is inevitable.
A designated officer must make a decision about the actual removal of organs and tissue.
The designated officer must determine whether the deceased had either expressed a wish to donate tissue, or had consented to its removal.
At this time, the Australian Organ Donor Register is checked and the family is asked to confirm their loved one’s donation decision.
The Human Tissue Act and Organ Donation
The Human Tissue Act requires that reasonable steps are taken to ascertain the intent or wishes of the deceased, by checking the Australian Organ Donor Register or other evidence.
In New South Wales, evidence the deceased consented to donation must be in writing, or the deceased must have, during their last illness, orally expressed a wish to donate in the presence of two witnesses.
The family of the deceased will be asked to provide consent before donation can proceed, even if a person has already recorded their consent to donation on the Australian Organ Donor Register.
The Human Tissue Acts provide a priority list of family members who will be approached for consent to deceased donation.
If the first person on the priority list is not available, then the designated officer must seek out the next person on the list to provide consent.
The National Health and Medical Research Council’s guidelines state that if there is a clear dispute or strong resistance to the removal of tissue among next of kin, removal of organs or tissue will not occur.
The family’s objections to donation will prevail even when a potential donor has expressed a wish to donate or has registered their consent.
Registering to become a donor is important because it can guide your family to understand that your decision was to be an organ and tissue donor.
Registration counts, with 90% of families agreeing to donations proceeding where their loved one is a registered donor.
Removal of organs cannot proceed if there is evidence that the deceased had objected to organ donation.
Wills and Advance Health Care Directives for organ donation
Attwood Marshall Lawyers recommend your Will includes clear directions to your loved ones about your consent to donate.
However, the nature of organ donation is that it must be carried out as soon as possible after death, but typically a Will is only looked at by loved ones at a much later time.
If you have not spoken to your family about your decision, there is a risk that your wishes may not be observed, because your family has not had an opportunity to read your Will before they are required to give consent.
A complete Advance Health Care Directive can also help to instruct clinicians and family members on your wishes to donate.
The Advance Health Care Directive is a legal document completed by you with the help of a GP and then witnessed by a solicitor, for a small fee.
What an Advance Health Care Directive includes:
- outlines what medical treatment or health care you want if you can no longer make decisions for yourself. It can be general (e.g. that you wish to receive all available treatment) or specific (e.g. that you wish to decline a certain medical treatment)
- enables you to appoint an attorney for health and personal matters
- includes information that health professionals should know, including health conditions, allergies, and religious, spiritual or cultural beliefs that could affect your care.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers strongly recommend you complete a Will and Power of Attorney documents at the same time.
This ensures your loved ones have clear instructions, confidence and security in what could be a very emotionally difficult time for them.
To discuss organ donation, Advance Health Care Directive, Wills and Power of Attorney documents please contact our Wills and Estates Department Manager, Donna Tolley.
She can be reached on 07 5506 8241, email [email protected], or free call 1800 621 071.
Attwood Marshall Lawyers provide seniors with a free, no obligation 30 minute review appointment at their Kingscliff, Robina, Brisbane and Coolangatta head offices.