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You need to ‘opt in’ to be an organ donor

By registering to become an organ donor and letting the right people know of your plans, you could potentially save or improve the lives of many people, writes Marie Brownell, National Manager of Estate Planning, Equity Trustees.

In 2020 COVID-19 impacted organ donor numbers in Australia as hospitals were forced to scale back operations, while flight reductions and border closures added to the complexity.

With 1270 patients receiving an organ from 463 deceased donors, the number of transplants fell 12% from 2019, while the number of donors decreased by 16%. Most significantly, 18% fewer kidney patients received the transplants they needed, according to research from the Australian Government[1].

Currently around 1650 Australians are waitlisted for a transplant – and with the right planning you could potentially become part of the solution. In fact, according to Transplant Australia[2], one donation could transform the lives of 10 people or more.

Thinking about what will happen to your organs in the event of your death can be a difficult topic to face but if you don’t give instructions to the right people, it is possible that your wishes may not be carried out. Here we outline the key steps you should take if you would like to become an organ donor.

Join the Australian Donor Register

A common misconception is that Australians are registered for donation through their driver’s licence. In fact, state-based registries no longer exist.

SA residents can record their donation decision when applying for or renewing a licence and this information is then directly transferred to the national register. If you live in another state, you will need to join the Australian Organ Donor Register. Signing up online takes less than a minute but could one day make a huge difference to a sick person in need. 

Inform your Executor

Most people think about assets and family when making their will but few consider specifying their wishes around organ donation. Even for those who do, there can be issues as there is only a small window of opportunity to transplant the organs of a deceased person, so by the time the will has been reviewed it may already be too late.

Legally, when a person dies, the right and responsibility to deal with their body passes to the Executor. It is therefore essential that your Executor is made aware of your intention to donate so they can confirm your decision should the need arise.

When making your will, you should also consider the different ways there are to contribute. In addition to organ and tissue donation you may also wish to donate your body to medical science to provide crucial material for the study of human anatomy. However, this requires a different registration process – usually through a university.

Talk to your family

In Australia family members are asked to provide consent to organ donation before it can proceed. Therefore, it is important to discuss your donation wishes with your family, so they can feel comfortable with being part of the process.

Transplant Australia data2 shows that each year, around 40% of families decline donation. This is largely due to the family being unaware of their loved one’s wishes - of the 51% of Australians who do know the donation decisions of their family member, 94% would uphold the decision.


While Australia is a world leader for successful organ and tissue transplants, with only one in three Australians registered as donors, now more than ever there is a need for Australians to say ‘yes’ to organ donation.

It can be hard to think about what will happen to your body after you die but being a donor is a generous decision that is well worth making.


Australian Organ Donor Register

Wills and Estate Planning services

Estate Planning for organ donation

[1] Australian Government Organ and Tissue Authority

[2] Transplant Australia: