Discussing organ donation with your children
While discussions with very young children about organ donation usually only occur through a personal connection, perhaps when a friend or relative has received a donation, Dr Rhodes says having the conversation with teenagers is always a good idea.
Yet only 25% of parents surveyed had discussed organ donation with their teen, and the main reason given by those who hadn’t was because they “hadn’t really thought about organ donation”.
Thirteen or fourteen appears the typical age most parents think is appropriate for the conversation.
“That’s consistent with research from overseas,” says Dr Rhodes. She says while every child is different, most children of this age have the capacity to understand the topic, and points out that in some Australian states it’s actually part of the school curriculum in year 8 or 9.
“We actually found that for one in five of the families who chatted about this with their teen, it was their teen who brought the subject up,” says Dr Rhodes.
How to have a conversation around organ donation
Donation Nursing Specialist Coordinator from DonateLife Victoria, Trechelle Herington, is expert in having conversations with families about organ donation.
Her role begins after intensive care doctors speak to families, explaining that everything has been done for their loved one and that end of life preparations are to begin.
“We are meeting people at possibly the worst few days of their lives. It’s a very privileged position to be able to sit with people then, we talk a lot about what their loved one was like in life, as well as give them all the information they need to make an informed decision about whether organ donation is something they would like to consider for their loved one,” she says.
She says the conversation can be surprisingly uplifting.
“For a lot of families, this conversation about organ donation gives them a little sliver of hope and some choice about something when in a lot of the cases all other choice has been taken out of their hands,” she says.
Statistics show that in the adult population, consent rates are higher if a person’s next of kin knows what their loved ones wishes were.
“That’s why it’s so important to register your wishes, and to make your wishes known to your family and friends – in the end it’s really the next of kin who makes the final decision,” Trechelle says.
Answering young children’s questions about organ donation
While most families will talk about organ donation with their children when they are teens, those in a situation where a family member is part of the process may find themselves needing to discuss the topic with a child as young as five.
Trechelle says keeping things simple and specific will help. She suggests an explanation like:
“Our bodies need particular parts to work, like our lungs for breathing and our hearts for pumping blood, and sometimes these parts fail. Although medicine, and doctors and nurses can try to make people better and fix these parts, sometimes people still get very ill and need other parts to help them get better,” she says, noting that parents know their children best, and will have a good understanding of what they may be able to comprehend.