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Explaining failure through success: a critical analysis of reduction in road and stroke deaths as an explanation for Australia's low deceased organ donation rates


  • Funding: None.

  • Conflict of interest: None.

Aric Bendorf, The Centre for Values, Ethics and the Law in Medicine, Medical Foundation Building K25, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia. Email:


Background/Aim:  During the past two decades, Australian federal and state governments have funded many initiatives to bolster organ donation. Despite large investments of time, effort and money, Australia's deceased donation rate is in the bottom half of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries and has only marginally increased from 11.9 donors per million people (pmp) in 1990 to 14.9 donors pmp in 2011. An often-cited explanation for this situation is that Australia's success in increasing levels of public health and safety through reduced traffic and stroke fatalities has reduced its number of potential deceased organ donors. We refer to this as the ‘Failure Because of Success’ hypothesis. Although commonly accepted, this hypothesis is largely untested.

Methods:  By analysing data from international donation and transplantation organisations and international public health and safety organisations, we compared historical deceased organ donation rates with traffic and stroke fatality rates in Australia and the seven countries with the world's highest deceased organ donation rates (Spain, Portugal, France, USA, Belgium, Austria and Italy).

Results:  Traffic fatality rates across all countries in the study have fallen dramatically during the time period, with Spain having the lowest traffic fatality rates. Stroke fatality rates demonstrate similar reductions, with France showing the lowest cerebral vascular accident mortality rates.

Conclusion:  When compared with countries with the world's highest deceased donation rates, Australia's improvements to public health and safety through reductions in traffic and stroke fatalities were neither unique nor exemplary and do not provide an adequate explanation for its low organ donor rates.