Manitobans for Presumed Consent calls for changes to organ donation rules

Organ donation advocates call for Manitoba to make everyone automatically considered a potential organ donor unless they indicate they don't want to be.

Organ donation advocates call for changes to Manitoba's opt-in system

Delcy-Ann Selymes (far left) and Mendel Schnitzer (centre) stand with other members of the group Manitobans for Presumed Consent. They want the province to legislate that people who are healthy enough to donate organs are automatically considered donors unless they opt-out. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

Mendel Schnitzer, 67, said he still remembers how excited he was when he found out he was getting a kidney transplant in 1993.

"I went to the wrong hospital," the 67-year-old Manitoban said, with a laugh.

But since that kidney failed in 2000, Schnitzer has been on a wait list. Although the average wait time for a kidney in Manitoba is five to seven years, as more time passes, Schnitzer isn't sure he's going to experience the same jubilation again.

"I'm not optimistic after 16 years," he said.

Across Canada, including in Manitoba, people must register to become organ donors. A group called Manitobans for Presumed Consent is pushing government to change those rules.

Instead of opting in to become donors, Manitobans for Presumed Consent wants everyone to be automatically considered a potential organ donor unless they indicate they don't want to be.

"A person needing a transplant, they have no choice. They have to wait," said Delcy-Ann Selymes of Manitobans for Presumed Consent.

"But people who are healthy, under presumed consent, they have the opportunity ... to opt out."

The cause is personal for Selymes. Her four-year-old grandson, Charlie Dunn, has kidney disease and his doctors believe he will need three kidney transplants over the course of his life.

"He could die waiting on a wait list for one of those organs," Selymes said. 

Manitoba has a low rate of organ donation compared to other provinces, according to a study released about a year ago by the Canadian Institute for Health Information.

Health Minister Sharon Blady said Manitoba has seen an improvement in the rate of organ donation over the last year. 

She attributes the gains to Manitoba's decision to allow organs to be harvested after someone's heart stops beating and and to doctors speaking more with families about organ donation.

"It's really about having the conversation about what you want to do at end-of-life," Blady said. "It's a very personal decision. It involves individuals and their families."

While Blady agrees with Manitobans for Presumed Consent that organ donation rates need to go up further, legislating presumed consent is not something the NDP government is considering, she said.


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