Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

What you need to know about organ donation

Blog post | 11 May 2018

Think you’re too old or unhealthy to be an organ and tissue donor? Think again. 

People aged 80 and over have successfully donated their organs, as well as smokers, drinkers and people with chronic health conditions.

Almost 70% of Australians are willing to be organ and tissue donors, which is great. But to potentially save a life, it's important to ‘opt in’ by joining the Australian Organ Donor Register. (You can also do this via the Australian Government Organ and Tissue Authority website). Registering to be an organ donor on your state-based driver’s licence is no longer an option unless you live in South Australia.

As of May 2018, there were about 6.5 million Australians aged 16 and over on the national Donor Register.

So, what’s holding some Aussies back from signing up for organ donation? Research by the Organ and Tissue Authority found several common myths could be partly to blame.      

Myth: It’s my choice – I don’t need to discuss it with my family

Fact: Your family needs to know. They will be asked to confirm your decision, even if you registered.

Family is involved in each step of the donation process and will be asked to provide vital health information. It’s also important to talk to your family so they’re comfortable about being part of the donation process.

Myth: Organ and tissue donation is against my religion

Fact: Almost all religions support organ and tissue donation as an act of compassion and generosity.

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Judaism all support organ and tissue donation. Very few religions do not. Almost half of all Australians don’t know whether their religion supports organ and tissue donation, and 1 in 5 families that declined donation in 2014 did so because of religious or cultural concerns. 

Check whether your religious leaders have signed a ‘statement of support’ of organ and tissue donation here

Myth: I’m too old to be an organ and tissue donor

Fact: Age is not a barrier – people aged over 80 have become organ and tissue donors. The majority (78%) of Australians aged 65 and over are willing to donate organs and tissue, yet 37% assume they are too old to be considered.

Each potential donor is assessed on an individual basis. There is every possibility you may be able to donate your organs or tissues, even if you were born before the Queen’s coronation or the invention of TV.

Myth: I’m not healthy enough to donate because of my lifestyle choices 

Fact: Despite what 7 in 10 Australians wrongly believe, you don’t have to be in perfect health to donate organs and tissue. People who smoke, drink or don’t have a healthy diet can still donate. 

Myth: Organ and tissue donation disfigures the body

Fact: Nearly 1 in 3 Australians fear that organ and tissue donation leave the body disfigured, but during organ donation surgery, the incision (cut) made during an organ and tissue retrieval operation will be closed and covered as in any other operation.

The donor’s body is always treated with dignity and respect and the family can still have an open casket viewing if they wish. 

Myth: Enough people become donors, so I don’t need to do it

Fact: Donation is a rare event – only 1 to 2 out of every 100 hospital deaths allows for the possibility of organ donation. Most donors die suddenly and unexpectedly in a hospital emergency department or intensive care unit on a ventilator.

Approximately 1,400 people are on transplant waiting lists at any one time in Australia. They are counting on every potential donor having decided — and discussed that decision — with their family. Sadly, some die waiting for a transplant.

For more information 

One organ and tissue donor can transform and save the lives of many. Don’t put off making your decision – decide and register your donation decision and discuss your decision with your loved ones today. Learn more and register to donate at Donatelife.gov.au.

Want more like this?

For health and wellbeing news you can use, go to the healthdirect blog.

Material in this blog post originally appeared on Donatelife.gov.au and has been reproduced here with permission. It has been edited for length and style purposes.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo