Rachel Worsley chats to Lizzie Barrett, co-founder of the FilmLife Project, about creative ways to engage young people in the organ donation discussion.

[hr] Eighty percent of young people aged 16-29 would donate organs or tissue to save a person’s life, yet forty percent of young people have not told their families about their donation wishes. As a result, many organ donation procedures don’t go ahead, jeopardising the lives of the many Australians waiting for life saving transplants every year.

Lizzie Barrett, co-founder of the FilmLife Project, believes that utilising the creative arts, particularly film, is an effective way to engage young adults and raise awareness about the importance of talking to your family about organ donation.

“A lot of the resources out there are not particularly creative. Things like fact sheets [and] brochures have their place, but they engage a very specific audience.”

Instead, she envisions a very different way of engaging the young community, through the FilmLife Project. As a former organ donation coordinator currently working as an intensive care nurse, Barrett created the organisation with Kerrie Noonan, a PhD student at the University of Western Sydney. She was inspired after seeing a workshop run by sixteen-year-old students, which sought to promote awareness about organ donation.

“They developed a performance piece around organ donation, and we basically took this model and tried to make this a big thing and apply for funding,” she explains.

The FilmLife Project operates on a simple premise: to capture the stories of organ and tissue donation through the eyes of young people in an annual film competition, and to spark conversation. Film is the primary medium.

“A picture speaks a thousand words, and it really has a way of breaking down walls and breaking down barriers, in a way that few things can do,” says Barrett. “We wanted to give them the opportunity to be creative, to be wacky, to do whatever they wanted, and film seemed like the best medium to do that.”

The success of their vision is perfectly illustrated by the 2012 winner of the FilmLife Project, Josephine Lee. Her film, entitled ‘Ask the Hard Questions’, poses a series of questions about everyday dilemmas with light-hearted humour, before cutting to a shot of double lung transplant patient Roger Lee imploring viewers to talk to their families about their donation wishes. It was turned into thirty and ninety-second community announcement broadcasts on Foxtel and in cinemas across the country.

Yet, as demonstrated by the forty percent who have yet to discuss organ donation with their families, the topic remains a taboo subject.

“It can be really hard to talk about death and dying when you’re a teenager or in your twenties. It’s not something that you expect to happen to you, so you don’t talk about it. Sometimes the conversation falls on deaf ears… And there are myths that surround organ donation, like being too young or too old, or being against your religion, which are not true,” explains Barrett.

Previously in New South Wales, people registered their wish to donate their organs or tissue at the RMS (Roads and Maritime Services) when applying for or renewing their driver’s license. However, in response to low rates of organ donation, this has been scrapped in favour of a nationally-recognised body, the Australian Organ Donor Registry, which is administered by Medicare Australia. Barrett believes this is a good move, especially for young people.

“The reality is, when you go to the RTA at the age of 16, you don’t get given any kind of information. You don’t get the opportunity to learn about organ donation. It’s just a tick in the box. For those young people, you’re excited about your Ls, and you’re not in the headspace to think about the process.”

But registering still means that young people need to discuss their wishes with their families.

“When we talk about consent in Australia, what you put on the registry is a legal consent and we can’t go against it,” says Barrett. “However, if someone dies, the practicality is of taking them out of the intensive care unit through to organ retrieval surgery with a family that doesn’t want it to happen…that’s why we need families to get onboard to understand their loved one’s wishes… that’s why the most important thing young people could do is talk to their family.”

For more information, go to donatelife.gov.au or check out filmlife.com.au to contribute your film.


Dedicated to Gemma Humphreys