Organ donation in Australia is suffering because many fail to communicate to their respective families their desire to bequeath their organs. Consequently many families prevent organ removal.
Those wishing to donate organs after their death should communicate their wishes to family members and register their decision on the Australian Organ Donor Register to ensure their organ donation wishes are fulfilled, says Queensland University of Technology (QUT) researcher Melissa Hyde.
"If families are not aware of the wishes of their loved ones, it means that when people in the medical profession ask them, they may say they do not want the organs donated," she said.
"It may be up to 50 per cent of family members who refuse to consent to donation, and this most often happens because they aren't aware that their loved one wanted to donate.
"It has a lot to do with the timing as well - family members are grieving and may not want to think about making a decision about organ donation and it does make it easier and less stressful for them if they know what their family member wanted.
"By getting people to discuss their donation wishes, it may make talking about organ donation and mortality more accepted in society - this is a decision which may save lives."
Ms Hyde said the issues about communicating wishes to family could include difficulties with starting a conversation about organ donation, feeling unmotivated to do so, religious beliefs, thinking family won't support the decision, or feeling uncomfortable in general talking about death.
"From the research I conducted, the people most likely to fill out a registration form or talk to their family are those who believe that communicating their decision is the morally right thing to do," she said.
"These people also consider being an organ donor as an important part of their identity and how they view themselves and think that communicating their decision is a positive thing to do and relatively easy to perform.
"My research also showed that the people who are most likely to talk with family about their decision are those who are more certain they want to be organ donors, and think that family members will be open to talking about organ donation.
"They are also likely to make the most of opportunities to talk to their family about donation such as when organ donation is discussed on a TV show or they see a story about a transplant recipient in the newspaper."
If Australia has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world, it could be simply because people have not provided their family with information about their consent for donation, said Ms.Hyde.
Ms Hyde said it was important for people to provide consent for donation by recording their signed consent on the Australian Organ Donor Register and telling family about donation wishes.
Ms Hyde said many people were unaware that if they registered their intent to donate on the donor register prior to July 2005, they need to re-register their consent by signing a new registration form.
She said it was hard to say how much of a difference an increase in consent for donation would have on rates of organ donation in this country, but it was likely to have a significant effect.
Ms Hyde has recently been awarded a QUT Vice Chancellor's Postdoctoral Research Fellowship to continue her study in the area and said she hopes to design an intervention to increase communication about this issue among families.