Organ Donation in Canada: A Matter of Life or Death

  • National Newswatch

Imagine, your son, Xavier, was born with a tumor on his liver. At the age of 6-months, he has undergone multiple surgeries and procedures. None one of them have worked and he has recently been given just weeks to live. Xavier has been put on a liver transplant waiting list. Unfortunately, no suitable transplant donor has become available and Xavier passed away within two weeks of his final prognosis.Like Xavier, roughly 4,500 Canadians are on a waitlist for organ transplants each year. In 2014, 2,356 organs were transplanted, however, 278 people died while waiting for a transplant. Furthermore, Canada has lower organ donation rates than numerous other countries including the United States and the United Kingdom.These alarming numbers can be attributed to Canada's current policy surrounding organ donation. Canada's current health care system requires willing organ donors to opt-in to organ donation through their driver's license, health care card, or through an online registry. This policy is problematic as most people can't be bothered to take the time to register unless they have had a personal organ donation experience. In order to increase the number of available organs, Canada needs to alter its organ donation law and implement an opt-out policy.Countries such as Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey have adopted an opt-out policy for organ donation. This implies that consent is presumed unless individuals reject to become a prospective donor and register to opt-out. Unless explicitly stated beforehand, if you die, your organs will be donated to someone in need. Opt-out countries lead the world in transplantation rates and this policy has shown to increase organ donation rates by 25 to 30%.Just recently, “Tory MLA Steven Fletcher tabled a private member's bill in the Manitoba Legislature in March” to change the organ donation policy in the province. The government rejected his proposal and the caucus came to a final decision preferring to encourage voluntary organ donor registration. Like Manitoba, New-Brunswick and British Columbia have considered adopting presumed consent but have also rejected the idea. Other provinces such as Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, and Saskatchewan continue to explore the idea of an opt-out organ donation system, however, neither province has yet to enact change. Like other European countries, a change in Canada's policy will likely increase organ donation rates. Imagine the impact that a suitable liver donor could have had on Xavier's life!Throughout the past 25 years, Spain has been the world leader in organ donation. While the country assumes an opt-out policy, the Spanish model relies on education and organization in which a particular group is assigned a coordination role to oversee donation and transplant policies between health care regions. Education and organization of organ donors and transplant recipients is no doubt a key aspect to ensure the success of any donation experience. However, having substantial organ donors is the first and arguably the most important step. When Canada changes its current policy from opt-in to opt-out, the health care system as a whole can concern itself with organization, education, and regulation.Countries who have an opt-in policy have received some backlash as individuals perceive that their autonomy is being taken away. However, in either model, it is ultimately the individual who has the choice of whether or not to donate their organs. It is solely a matter of opting in or opting out!According to the Canadian Transplant Society, 90% of Canadians support organ donation but less than 20% are registered donors. If the majority of Canadians support organ donation, why is there such a huge discrepancy? Not only will changing Canada's organ donation policy from one of opt-in to opt-out increase the number of available organs by up to 30%, it will also have a life-changing impact on the lives of people like Xavier, who only lived to be 6 months of age.Organ donation is a matter of life or death. Is Canada ready to make a positive change?Hannah Lane is a Master of Public Health Student at Memorial University of Newfoundland.