Quadriplegic Manitoba politician wants presumed consent for organ donation

A Manitoba politician left paralyzed from the neck down by a highway collision is pushing for a law that would make all people in the province an organ donor unless they opted out.

Tory MLA Steven Fletcher in favour of 'opt-out' system he says would improve access to transplants

Tory MLA Steven Fletcher plans to table a private member's bill in the Manitoba Legislature Thursday that would change the organ donation system in the province. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

A Manitoba politician left paralyzed from the neck down by a highway collision is pushing for a law that would make all people in the province an organ donor unless they opted out.

Steven Fletcher, who has used a wheelchair since hitting a moose with his vehicle in 1996, said in an interview he remembers being close to death in hospital, unable to talk, and not having registered as an organ donor.

"Organ donation would have been consistent with my wishes, and to think that my organs, if I had passed on, would have been wasted is not a very good thought," he said.

Fletcher is to introduce a private member's bill in the legislature Thursday that would change the way the province registers organ donors. Currently, people opt in as donors by signing up on a provincial website or on certain provincial identity cards.

Fletcher's plan, known as presumed consent, would create an opt-out system. People would be presumed to be organ donors unless they registered their desire not to donate. Donations would only be for surgeries and other therapeutic purposes — not research, Fletcher added.

Fletcher is a backbencher in the Progressive Conservative government elected last year, so there are no guarantees that his bill will become law. Few such bills get passed in the legislature, where they compete with the government's official legislative agenda.

Fletcher has been here before. In 2014, when he was a member of Parliament, he introduced a private member's bill on doctor-assisted death. The bill didn't pass, but it helped spark debate.

The following year, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down the law against assisted suicide in cases where a person is competent, enduring endless suffering and in "grievous and irremediable" condition.

"What I learned from that is, you don't need to win to win. You don't need to pass a bill to be successful with that bill," Fletcher told The Canadian Press.

"With things as fundamental as life and death or right and wrong ... bills tend to gain public support before the (politicians) catch up."

Support in Sask.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall said last year he would like to see presumed consent for organ donation. The government was looking at what steps could be taken to protect such legislation from being legally challenged.

A group called Manitobans for Presumed Consent has been pushing for the change. It points to a presumed-consent law in Wales in 2015 that increased the number of transplants by 24 per cent.

"That means people are living as opposed to dying, because there are literally people that are dying on the organ-transplant waiting list," said spokesman Bryan Dyck.

The organ-donation bill is not the only topic on Fletcher's agenda. He has a number of private bills ready to be introduced this spring, including one that would toughen the conflict-of-interest law that governs legislature members.

Currently, members only have to disclose property they own in the province. His bill would cover all of Canada, including northwestern Ontario where many Manitobans have cottages.

It would not cover international properties such as the home owned by Premier Brian Pallister in Costa Rica.

The reason, Fletcher said, is that properties in other countries cannot benefit by Manitoba government decisions, whereas cottages across the Ontario boundary can.

"From mining claims to environmental plans to corridors for roads or energy, that all can be important to said assets."