Organ donation 'difficult subject' for some migrant communities

(File: AAP)

Migrant and refugee communities are being urged to discuss more openly the subject of organ and tissue transplantation.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

The call is part of a federal government drive to increase the number of people listed on state donor registers.

Experts warn that within some non-English speaking communities it can be a difficult subject to broach.

But as Kristina Kukolja reports, religious and ethnic community leaders are speaking out in support of the transplant campaign.

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Some of the various religious and ethnic community leaders speaking out in support of the Donate Life campaign.

The national initiative by the federal government's Organ and Tissue Authority hopes to raise awareness of organ and tissue transplantation among communities of non-English speaking backgrounds.

The Authority's CEO, Yael Cass, says her organisation's research found that among the studied migrant and refugee groups, only the Japanese Shinto faith and the Roma ethnic community actually oppose the practice.

She says the research identified Arabic-speakers, the Chinese, Italian, Turkish and Spanish communities, as well as followers of the Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Catholic religions as some of the groups in which they wanted to see more discussion on the issue.

Ms Cass says the findings show many people hadn't even considered becoming organ and tissue donors.

"One of the key reasons for them was that they didn't know if their religion or their cultural group advocated, permitted, or supported organ and tissue donation. So there was a knowledge gap. We also found that there were some concerns about the donation and transplantation process, and how it fitted with their religious precepts and they were very keen to know that it was supported by their religious leaders, and so were seeking confirmation before making a decision."

Ms Cass says that's why it's important to get religious and cultural community leaders involved.

"Actually having endorsement from religious leaders and the religious hierarchy was very persuasive for community members. It wasn't seen just as an individual decision, it was seen as a decision for which endorsement by their religious authority was important. So, that was why we particularly sought out confirmation of the faiths' support for organ and tissue donation, advocacy of organ and tissue donation, and also the principles that you see in all faiths that endorse the giving of life to others."

Monica Dowling is a Nurse Donation Specialist at the Northern Hospital in Melbourne.

Ms Dowling says that uncertainty about where certain cultural or religious groups stand on organ transplantation is also shared by some health professionals.

She says in the past it has prevented the issue from being raised with potential donors.

"Lots of people have preconceived ideas that some religions are not accepting organ and tissue donations, some cultures, that they would find it difficult. And most of it was our own interpretation of what we thought they thought about it. We never asked them. Now we tend to give them the information and ask everybody and just let them make their own decisions."

The Jewish community is one of the groups targetted by the Donate Life campaign.

Chief Rabbi of Western Australia, Rabbi Dovid Freilich, says, contrary to some misconceptions, organ and tissue transplantation is permitted for followers of the Jewish faith, but only under certain conditions.

"It must be done in such a way that the body is treated with great dignity and only really is interfered with as much as you need that particular organ. Of course, the organ must be used for virtually immediate use. Somebody needs it now because their life is in danger. We really don't believe in organ banks where human organs are stored up to be used in future dates because that really is not a dignified situation for human beings. In fact, we regard that as rather inhuman. Banks might be for money, to protect people's property, but not for human organs or human body parts."

Rabbi Freilich says one way to help medical professionals identify any conditions a certain group, such as the Jewish community, places on organ donation would be to include specific labelling on driving licences.

He says it's a recommendation he's already put to the West Australian government.

"You can indicate on your driving licence where you want to donate organs. I remember saying to the government here, one of the members of the government in Western Australia, we are happy as the Jewish community to donate organs where the conditions that are met, as far as our ritual conditions are met. I said there should be on those licences a little section where one can actually state you may take my organ depending on the following situation. Unfortunately it just says, do you want to donate? Yes or no? It doesn't actually give you conditions based on your religious beliefs on how you want to donate."

But religious considerations alone don't explain why members of some communities may be cautious about potentially sharing their own organs or those of family members, whether in life or in the event of death.

That's according to Zaga Trkulja, a multicultural health worker from the Illawarra Shoalhaven area, south of Sydney.

Ms Trkulja, who is of a Serbian background, was involved in the Australian Organ and Tissue Authority's program to raise awareness among Orthodox communities in her region: Serbian, Greek and Macedonian.

She's told SBS Radio's Serbian language program some of the people she has met associate organ donation with horrors experienced or heard of in war.

"Coming from the territory of the former Yugoslavia, people have gone through some unpleasant experiences. During the consultations many have asked whether in Australia the organ and tissue transplantation process is susceptible to corruption, and can the organs be sold. That was their greatest concern, and the reason they didn't want to discuss organ and tissue donation with their families, because they had no knowledge of the process involved."

Based in New South Wales, Assefa Bekele is a community health professional working with Ethiopian Australians.

Mr Bekele says in his community -- as in some of Australia's other new and emerging African communities -- organ donation is not openly talked about.

He says it reflects a broader tendency among community members not to discuss health and body-related issues.

"It is a very difficult topic to talk about. People are not open about their body parts. Sometimes they tend to hide what sicknesses they have. Even going to the doctor on time is a little bit difficult for our culture. That's what it is."

As a registered nurse for over two decades, Kelly Rogerson has a long history of working with Australians of a non-English speaking background in a hospital setting.

Today she is the Victorian Director of Nursing and Operations for the Donate Life campaign.

She says in addition to language barriers other factors can also make decisions surrounding organ donation more complex.

"I've often had experiences where people don't necessarily have their relatives here in Australia to be able to support them, and so they need to get guidance and support from other countries in the world where they are originally from. There can often be different processes in the countries that their other relatives are from that are very different from the Australian processes. So we guide and support people and provide them with up-to-date information about what happens in Australia to help guide and inform their decision."

Source: World News Australia