Sex, death and organ donation

DonateLife NSW take to university orientation weeks across the state to chat with students and young adults about organ and tissue donation. Picture: supplied.

DonateLife NSW take to university orientation weeks across the state to chat with students and young adults about organ and tissue donation. Picture: supplied.

March data from Services Australia showed there were 647,857 women aged 16 to 34 on the Australian Organ Donor Register compared with 353,708 men in the same age bracket.
Research by DonateLife revealed young men were less receptive to messages encouraging registration and were influenced by their social and familial circles, sporting figures and celebrities.

DonateLife WA state medical director Dr Simon Towler said gender-specific behavioural differences were also behind the discrepancy.

“Women by virtue of maternal instinct and because they have families tend to take a greater interest in health issues,” he said.

“Many young men say they wouldn’t mind being an organ donor when asked directly but don’t do anything about it.”

Former DonateLife WA state medical director and organ donation advocate Dr Bruce Powell said there was “a disconnect between the support of the notion and the practicality of being a donor,” which impeded registration numbers.

According to Woolcott Research’s 2011 National Community Awareness Survey, 91 per cent of Australians agreed organ and tissue donation could save and improve lives, however, only 77 per cent were willing to become donors.

Dr Towler said this unwillingness to register stemmed from avoidance of discussing death. He cited research authorised by the Organ and Tissue Authority which showed fathers aged 25 to 45 “were reluctant to talk about dying and the cold conversation about registering as an organ donor.”

While research demonstrated young men were less likely to register as organ donors the discrepancy’s tangible impact on transplant rates was minimal.
Physiologically, fewer male registrations bore no consequences. Organs — bar reproductive ones — are gender-neutral.

Dr Towler said organs were not directed on a gender basis because the need for organ transplants far exceeded the number of donors. According to the Australian & New Zealand Organ Donation Registry as of April 1, there were 1725 people enrolled on the organ waiting list. In March, there were 40 deceased donors.

Hearts, lungs, livers and pancreases were matched to donees by blood type, size, compatibility and urgency, and kidneys were paired by blood type and tissue compatibility. Matching the tissues as accurately as possible resulted in better longevity of the transplanted organ.

Transplant Australia chief executive officer Chris Thomas said “low registration rates of a particular group — in this instance young men — isn’t good and must be addressed,” as the more donors across all demographics, the better chance for suitable matches.

According to DonateLife’s 2020 Activity Report registration also encouraged higher consent rates when relatives were asked to agree to their family members becoming donors. In 2020, 89 per cent of families agreed when their family member was a registered donor. Only 44 per cent agreed when they were not registered and had not discussed donation.

Dr Powell said registration had a direct impact on donor rates.

“By registering, organ donor numbers would go up,” he said.

We wouldn’t see increased opportunity, but a better conversion of those opportunities.

If you know what you want, put your name on the register.”