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HomeYour HealthManaging Your HealthHealthy LivingUnderstanding Organ and Tissue DonationUnderstanding Organ and Tissue Donation

Published on July, 4th 2023
​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Authored by Pfizer Medical Team​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Organ donation is an act of extraordinary generosity, and for transplant recipients it is a remarkable gift. An organ transplant could save or drastically improve a recipient’s life. Each donated organ is rare and precious. Unfortunately, there are more people on the transplant waitlist than there are registered organ donors. This has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the number of deceased organ donors and transplant recipients still below pre-pandemic levels at the end of 2022.1

In Australia, there were 454 deceased organ donors and 1,224 transplant recipients in 2022.2 Despite this, there are still around 1,800 Australians waiting on a transplant.1  In New Zealand, there were 63 deceased organ donors and 184 recipients in 2022.​​​​​​​2

There are many reasons why people might not register as an organ donor, and some of these could be rooted in fear or misunderstanding about organ donation. We’ve compiled a collection of resources that can shed some light on this area.

What is organ and tissue transplantation, and why is it so important?

Organ or tissue donation is when an organ/tissue is surgically removed from a donor and transplanted into another person (the transplant recipient). Transplantation is necessary because the recipient’s organ/tissue has failed or has been damaged by disease or injury. This can drastically improve the transplant recipient’s quality of life and can even save their life. Organ and tissue donations can come from people who have died. For certain organs, such as the liver and kidney, it can also come from living donors.  

To learn more about organ and tissue donation, take a look at:

To learn more about living organ donation, take a look at:

*The Mayo Clinic is a medical centre in the United States. Some of the information in this article may not apply in Australia or New Zealand

What organs and tissues can be donated?

Organs, like the kidneys or lungs, are not the only body parts that can be donated. There are many others, and some might even surprise you. For instance, the cornea of the eyes can be transplanted to help restore sight!

To find out what body parts can be donated in Australia, have a look at this Healthdirect article on organ transplants

For New Zealanders, head to the ‘What Can I Donate’ section on Organ Donation New Zealand’s Everything You Need To Know About Donation  webpage.

If one organ donor can save up to 7 people 3, why are there still so many people waiting to receive a transplant?

To be considered a suitable organ donor, a person must die in hospital under a specific set of circumstances. In Australia, around 80,000 Australians die in hospital each year but only 2% qualify as organ donors.3 Not everyone in this 2% will be registered organ donors, or would have wanted to donate their organs.3 Even for people who have registered to be organ donors, their family still need to provide consent to undergo the organ donation process.   

To learn more about why organ donation is uncommon, have a look at: 

Hear from transplant recipients, the families of organ donors, and healthcare professionals, on their experience of organ donation

The process of organ donation is an incredibly transformative, and emotionally charged, experience for everyone involved. For the transplant recipient, it could save their life. For the families of deceased organ donors, they are making difficult decisions while grieving the loss of their loved one. All the while, healthcare staff are trying to help both parties through some of the best, and worst, moments of their lives. 

To hear the stories of these incredible individuals, head over to:

Do you have questions about organ donation? 

Not everyone is comfortable talking about organ donation, and you might have a question you’re not sure how to ask. Whether you are wondering if organ donation is against your religion, or if doctors will work as hard to save your life if you’re a registered organ donor, here are a list of articles that tackle some of these questions:

Do you have to be a certain age to be an organ donor?

Some people might think they are too old to donate, but this might not be the case. In Australia, you can head to the Australian Department of Health and Aged Care’s webpage on who can become an organ and tissue donor to find out more.

In New Zealand, check out Organ Donation New Zealand’s Everything You Need To Know About Donation webpage under the ‘Who Can Donate’ section.

How do I register as a donor to have my organs and tissue donated after my death?

In Australia, people who would like to become organ donors can register themselves on the Australian Organ Donor Register at DonateLife.

In New Zealand, there is no official donor register. Instead, people can indicate their intention to become an organ donor on their driver’s license. For more information, check out:

Do I need to tell my family about my organ donation preferences?

Both Organ Donation New Zealand and DonateLife Australia recommend that you discuss your organ donation wishes with your family. In the event of your passing, family members will be asked to confirm your decision to become an organ donor and knowing your wishes beforehand will make this decision easier. If they don’t know what your wishes were, they could override your decision to donate after your death. There’s no better time than to have the discussion today.

For more information head over to:

  1. Australian Donation and Transplantation Activity Report 2022. s.l. : Australian Organ and Tissue Donation and Transplantation Authority, 2022. Accessed June 2023.
  2. Australia and New Zealand Organ Donation Registry. Accessed June 2023.
  3. Statistics in Australia. Australian Government Organ and Tissue Authority Donate Life. Accessed June 2023.

External Resources

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