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Newfoundland and Labrador survey shows support for organ donation

Results not surprising to minister of Health, provincial director of Canadian Transplant Association

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

A recent phone survey aimed at Newfoundland and Labrador residents asked 400 people if they would support legislation similar to Nova Scotia’s Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act being introduced in that province. 
Of the 400 randomly selected residents, 322 said yes.
The Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act will make every resident in Nova Scotia a potential organ donor unless they opt out. It is the first law of its kind in North America. 
John Haggie, minister of Health, has spoken about such legislation in the past, saying the province will not follow in the footsteps of Nova Scotia just yet. 
In light of the results of this new survey, his mind hasn’t changed.
“The Nova Scotia piece for me is a real-life piece of research that will be very important in determining the way we go,” Haggie said. “In Spain for example … for the first eight to nine years (presumed consent around organ donation) made absolutely no difference to their donor rates.”
The minister, however, has been working to better educate health-care providers on how to better relate the importance of organ donation.
He has worked with transplant program co-ordinators, Canadian Blood Services, and other groups to bring education programs across the province.
“It is an awareness program for physicians and health-care providers who would work in settings where organ donation will be a feasible option,” Haggie said. “It’s also a discussion around advanced care directives. So, taking it out of the community and putting it in the hands of primary care providers, nurse practitioners, family physicians, these kinds of groups to make people aware.”
Eastern Health is responsible for the provincial Organ Procurement and Exchange of Newfoundland and Labrador. Rod Drover is the media relations manager for Eastern Health and is trying to clear up the facts on after-death organ donation.
"While there is an increasing need for organs, organ donation is a complex and time-sensitive process. High volumes of willing donors are needed to increase the opportunity of a successful donation. Deceased organ donation is a rare and extremely valuable gift, and every opportunity to realize a person’s wishes to become a donor is pursued. However, less than five per cent of all deaths are able to proceed to organ donation," Drover said. "The reasons vary and include the person’s death occurring suddenly outside a hospital, or prolonged oxygen deprivation, which prevents organs from being suitable for transplant. It is, therefore, important that all who wish to be organ donors discuss the possibility with their families and indicate their intent so that when this rare opportunity arises, their wishes are known and donation may become a possibility. The more residents who indicate their intent to become donors, the greater the odds are for successful donation."
Jonathon Hickman, provincial director for the Canadian Transplant Association, said he’s not surprised by the results of the poll, since Newfoundland and Labradorians are typically known for their giving nature. 
“It’s too bad that 83 per cent of the people will do it, but not 83 per cent of people have signed up (to become organ donors),” Hickman said. “There is a huge disconnect in people saying they are going to do it and actually signing up.” 
Hickman is taking these results as motivation to get out and speak to people.
“My hope is, in the fall, that I can meet with the four different parties and talk to them about this,” he said. 
Haggie and Hickman agree that awareness on organ donation needs to come before a law that would make everyone a potential organ donor passes.
It is proven in calls answered by Haggie’s department after Nova Scotia passed the new legislation. 
“One of the first calls we had after the advancement in Nova Scotia was a citizen asking how they 'opt-out' of the program,” Haggie said. “We don’t actually have a program where you opt-out, but that was the first question the department received from a member of the public.”

jasmine.burt@thetelegram.com

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