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Mums key to organ donation decision-making

Amanda Jones

4 August 2016: Women, particularly mothers, play a crucial role in the decision to donate a deceased loved one's organs according to research by a University of Canberra academic.

In her recent PhD thesis Hope for a Peaceful Death and Organ Donation senior lecturer in nursing and midwifery Holly Northam identified the major factors that influence a family to agree to, or decline, deceased organ donation.

Her study included interviews with 22 people who had been involved in an organ donation decision from nine deaths across Australia. In five deaths, family members had agreed to organ donation, and in four deaths the family declined, although they initially supported the idea of organ donation. All families believed that they had respected their loved one.

Her research showed women, and mothers in particular, are most likely to offer to donate their loved ones' organs.

"We found that mothers listened to family members more and were able to remember their loved ones' decision on whether or not they wanted to be an organ donor," she said.

Dr Northam said that because organ donation (compared with tissue donation) doesn't happen very often, and usually involves sudden and unexpected tragedy, the kind of care and quality in the delivery of information offered to families at this critical time is crucial. However, her study found that there was some variation in that practice.

"Organ donation rates have increased in Australia in recent years, and many in the community support the idea of organ donation. This research is important because it helps to identify barriers to consent," she said.

Dr Northam found families who had their needs met and concerns addressed, expressed satisfaction about their decision-making experience and agreed to organ donation.

"These satisfied families believed that everything that could be done was done to help their loved one, and believed that their relative was protected from suffering, their dignity respected, and the meaning of their life was remembered and honoured," she said.

"With Australians urged to decide and register their donation decision during this Donate Life week, it is important that those working in the clinical sector ensure that all families involved in making organ and tissue donation decisions are fully supported in their experience," Dr Northam said.

Dr Northam added that she was looking forward to working with the sector, including the Organ and Tissue Authority, to make sure that families faced with an organ donation decision receive the support they need.