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15 Jun 2017

By Dr Chris Moy, Chair, AMA Ethics and Medico Legal Committee

The 2017AMA National Conference, held on 26th-28th of May, featured a Q&A session on organ donation entitled Improving Australia’s Organ Donation Rates: Ethical and Practical Issues.

The purpose of the 2017 AMA National Conference panel session on organ donation was to educate and inform delegates on:

  • Australia’s donor system and rates of organ donation;
  • the ethical and practical issues associated with more controversial proposals to increase organ donor rates (eg, presumed consent, financial and non-financial incentives to donate);
  • how individual doctors can promote organ donation within the community; and
  • how the AMA can better raise awareness of organ donation within the medical profession and advocate for organ donation within the community.

 The Hon Ken Wyatt AM, Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health, opened the session, highlighting the 2016 record donation rates (which has doubled since the national reform program started in 2008), saving 1713 lives.  

 Acknowledging that there are still 1400 Australians on the organ waiting list at any particular time, the Minister outlined several of the Government’s reform program initiatives for increasing Australia’s organ donation rates. These include:

  • embedding a clinical governance framework for quality assurance and audit of clinical practice in DonateLife hospitals;
  • ensuring the delivery of specialised education and training of health care professionals to get best practice support in discussing donation with potential donor families;
  • a new system called Organ Match which will replace the current organ matching system to enable it to be more efficient;
  • continued support of  leave for living organ donor program; and
  • conducting a new simplified, streamlined registration channel.

 Following the Minister’s opening address, the session turned to a Q&A format, moderated by Professor Geoff Dobb, Head of Intensive Care at Royal Perth Hospital, with panel members including:

  • Mr Allan Turner, CEO of Zaidee’s Rainbow Foundation;
  • Dr Wendy Rogers, Professor of Clinical Ethics at Macquarie University;
  • Mr Jason Ryan, Chairman of Transplant Australia; and
  • Dr Helen Opdam, National Medical Director of the Organ and Tissue Authority.

 Discussion and debate focussed on numerous issues including:

  • consent in terms of ‘opt in’ and ‘opt out’ (Australia has an ‘opt in’ system of organ donation);
  • cultural beliefs relevant to donation and transplantation;
  • recognising tissue donation including eye tissue (which is very successful in Australia);
  • seeking transplants overseas;
  • including organ and tissue donation in end of life planning;
  • the impact of donation after circulatory death (DCD);
  • expanded criteria of older donors;
  • the benefit of simplifying the registration process;
  • that a large part of the community seems to support an opt out system;
  • publicly acknowledging the generosity of those who are organ donors as a marketing strategy;
  • inducements to become a donor (e.g. a grant towards funeral expenses for donors);    
  • integrating organ donor intentions on the MyHealth record;
  • improving the engagement of GPs;
  • whether patients are missing out on access to intensive care due to the occupation of these beds by potential donors;
  • whether the focus on organ donation is taking away from a focus on preventive care?;
  • the risks and benefits of donor families meeting recipients; and
  • the challenge of supporting a person’s wish to become an organ donor vs their wish of dying at home – what takes precedence?

The session will help inform the review of the AMA Position Statement on Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation 2012 which will commence in the near future. 

AMA members and others can view the session on the AMA’s YouTube channel at

If you have any questions regarding the session or the upcoming review of the AMA’s position statement, please contact

Published: 15 Jun 2017