Close to 90 per cent of Canadians are reported to support organ donation, yet only 20 per cent are registered as organ donors through an opt-in program.
Although it is hard to say how many of these apply to Newfoundland and Labrador, these troubling statistics show that implementation of an organ donation opt-out program is much needed.
One donor has the potential to benefit more than 75 people and save up to eight lives through organ and tissue donation. The recently passed legislation of Bill 133 in Nova Scotia (the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act), has stimulated much discussion around the feasibility and efficacy of such a program in N.L..
With approximately 4,400 Canadians on a waitlist for organ donations, presumed consent would facilitate in reaching the remaining 70 per cent of Canadians in favor of organ donation but failed to update their donor status. The director of critical care for N.L. reports that presumed consent does not deprive individuals of the right to choose, rather it reserves the premise of choice.
Such legislation would not apply to people who are younger than 19 or people who are incapable of giving consent. The critical criteria for organ eligibility have not changed and will continue to remain a vigorous and thorough process in determining medical suitability.
Health Minister John Haggie stated N.L. won’t follow Nova Scotia’s footsteps with presumed consent for organ donation at this time, even though Canada is identified as having one of the lowest organ donation rates worldwide. The current process in determining organ donor status is a deterrent in gaining new organ donors and therefore a gap in health care services which can impact everyone, either oneself or a loved one. As a Registered Nurse with a critical care background, the demand for registered organ donors is evident to me.
The director of N.L.’s Canadian Transplant Association, Jonathan Hickman, argues that implementing legislation similar to Nova Scotia is an important step forward in addressing the low percentage of organ donors; however he urges that N.L. health care professionals and communities need organ donor education before an opt-out program can be considered for the province.
This education must start at an early age in order to assure individuals can make an educated choice regarding organ donor consent by the age of 19 years old. This means starting the conversation in grade school and continuing throughout professional education programs such as nursing school. This will not only raise community awareness through education but advocacy as well. Organ donation is a sensitive subject and must be approached with a degree of compassion by nurses and other health professionals when in a clinical setting. More often than not, it is too late to start the conversation when organs are needed for life-saving measures. This is why it is imperative we become a pro-active province in life-saving health care and consider the benefits that come with passing an opt-out organ donation program in N.L.
Countries that have, by legislation, an opt-out system such as Spain, Croatia and Belgium, all have high organ donor rates while others like Germany or Greece who are an opt-in system (as is most parts of Canada) have lower organ donor rates. There is a positive cause-and-effect with the implementation of an opt-out program and organ donation rates. In a country where over 1,600 Canadians are added to an existing organ waitlist yearly, the number of potential organ donors must reflect this demand.
In the meantime, until this change takes place in N.L. and across Canada, we can advocate that citizens in favor of organ donation make the appropriate changes to their driver’s license and/or health card donor status. The process to opting-in for organ donor status may not be as convenient or effective as the alternative, but it will show elected leaders the strong support for organ donation among the people of N.L.