An extra 15 dangerously ill Western Australians could receive lifesaving transplants each year under new laws expected to pass State Parliament this week that will bring WA into line with other Australian States and Territories.
Health Minister Jim McGinty said the ‘Living Wills’ legislation would remove legal uncertainties in obtaining consent from patients and their families for organ donation to occur after the heart had stopped.
“The laws will give Western Australian doctors the same legal protection that their colleagues in other parts of Australia have, enabling them to raise the matter of organ donation when it has become clear that a patient is no longer benefitting from medical care and is about to die,” Mr McGinty said.
“The current lack of legal certainty means that every year people who wish to donate are unable to, and other seriously ill people miss out on lifesaving transplants.
“Currently in WA only patients who have suffered brain death and are being supported on a mechanical ventilator can donate organs.
“Many patients who die peacefully under other circumstances cannot currently become organ donors even if they have expressed the wish to do so.
“The new laws will enable doctors to discuss organ donation with these patients and their families in advance of their death and in some cases be able to honour their wish to become an organ donor.”
This approach is known as ‘donation after cardiac death’ and is standard process in all other parts of Australia and throughout much of the world.
The Minister said only patients who had previously registered their wishes to become a donor would be considered.
“This means that if a patient who is close to death wants to be a donor, important plans can be put in place, including arrangements for surgery, which will increase the chances of organ donation being possible,” he said.
In 2007, in South Australia the donation after cardiac death program resulted in two patients becoming organ donors and four patients receiving organ transplants. In the first four months of 2008, there have already been two after cardiac death donors. If this rate is sustained for the remainder of the year there will have been a 10 per cent increase in SA’s overall organ donation rate, resulting in approximately 14 additional patients receiving a transplant each year.
“In parts of the United Kingdom, where organ donation after cardiac death has been in place for longer, donors who have undergone cardiac death contribute 25 per cent of all donated organs,” Mr McGinty said.
“I encourage patients to include organ donation as part of their new individual advanced health directives, what we call ‘living wills’, while also continuing to register on the existing Australian Organ Donation Register.
“We should all consider the important issue of organ and tissue donation and discuss our wishes with our families while we are fit and healthy.
“This can make the tough decision of whether to donate our organs or not much easier for them if the situation ever arises.”
The new laws amend key clauses in the Criminal Code that have been the source of concern for many health professionals who care for dying patients. The amendment makes it clear that doctors who make a decision not to continue treatment, where that decision is made in good faith and responding to the dying patients wishes, are not criminally responsible.
The President of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, Professor Geoff Dobb said; “This is important legislation for the people of Western Australia, giving important reassurance that their wishes in regard to medical treatment, especially when they are close to death, will be respected.
“A further benefit is that it increases the opportunities for those who wish to be organ donors after death to have this wish fulfilled, and give life to others.”
In 2007, 58 Western Australians donated organs and tissues upon their death, resulting in life saving and life enhancing transplants for more than 200 people in this State.
The Minister said there was currently 650,000 Western Australians registered on the Australian Organ Donor Register.
“Where someone has registered their wishes, families almost always support the individual’s wishes to be a donor,” Mr McGinty said.
“The new laws are part of the State Government’s big push to increase the number of dangerously ill Western Australians each year who are able to receive a lifesaving transplant. A summit to examine all other options to increase the rate of organ donation will be held in the coming months.”
The Consent to Medical Treatment Bill 2006 would:
• allow adults to make an advance health directive - or living will - about future health matters, including the withdrawal or withholding of medical treatment and life sustaining measures;
• allow adults to appoint an enduring guardian to make personal, lifestyle and medical decisions on their behalf in the event of future incapacity;
• enable a responsible person, such as a loved one or next-of-kin to make medical decisions on behalf of a mentally incapacitated person in the absence of a living will or enduring guardian; and
• provide clinicians with legal protection from criminal and civil liability to carry out the wishes of dying patients or their guardians.
Minister's office: 9422 3000