Nova Scotia

McNeil says organ donor bill addresses concerns, meets legal test

Premier Stephen McNeil believes his government’s bill on organ and tissue donation has the necessary provisions to address any public concerns, while also providing hope to people who need life-saving operations.

Nova Scotia would be first jurisdiction in North America to have presumed consent

Premier Stephen McNeil says there's been an in-house legal assessment of Bill 133 and government officials believe having the opt-out clause will meet any test. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

Premier Stephen McNeil believes his government's bill on organ and tissue donation has the necessary provisions to address any public concerns, while also providing hope to people who need life-saving operations.

McNeil, along with other MLAs, spoke during second reading of the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act at Province House Thursday. The most notable aspect of the bill is the change to create presumed consent for organ donation, while providing the option for people to opt out of being a donor.

The bill would not apply to people younger than 19 or without the capacity to consent, and next of kin would still have to confirm consent at the time of a person's death.

The premier told reporters that when the bill becomes law, it would mean "out of tragic circumstances that happen in our province every day, we can provide some healing for those who are suffering from tragedy and at the same time provide a new lease on life."

Increased system support in budget

When the bill was introduced Tuesday, McNeil said there would be a 12 to 18 month delay before the legislation is proclaimed and becomes law. That time is to allow for an extensive public education campaign, as well as to enhance education for health-care providers outside the Halifax area so they can better recognize prospective donor candidates and put in place more supports in regional hospitals around the province.

McNeil, who pledged to provide that support, said the initial estimate is it will require "a couple million dollars" for the initial rollout. That money is already budgeted and would stretch over the 2019-20 and 2020-21 budgets. He also said there's been an in-house legal assessment of the bill and government officials believe having the opt-out clause will meet any test.

Opposition parties leaning toward supporting bill

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the "default towards this kind of generosity" is a good principle.

Burrill said his caucus supports the bill in general, but does have concerns about the necessary resources being in place to allow for the improved results officials hope to achieve.

In Europe, where legislation has accompanied increased system support, organ donations have increased by between 20 and 35 per cent.

NDP Leader Gary Burrill said the bill's 'default towards this kind of generosity' is a good thing. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

Burrill said he believes the opt-out clause is enough to address any concerns people have that the bill overlooks religious beliefs or is an overreach by government.

"If this were a bill that provided for a mandatory use of one's remains in a program, that would be an altogether different thing, but that's not the case here," he said.

Tory health critic Karla MacFarlane said her caucus is also leaning toward supporting the bill, but like Burrill they want to hear from the public at law amendments and they also want more details about the additional resources for health-care professionals and public education.

Tory health critic Karla MacFarlane says her party is leaning toward supporting the bill, but wants more details about the public education campaign and support for health-care workers. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

"We want to make sure that families are having those sincere and honest conversations with their children," she said.

MacFarlane said she supports the bill on a personal level.

"We know that almost 300 people last year died because they didn't receive organs. I don't believe that should happen … We can do better."

The public will get a chance to speak to the bill on Monday during a meeting of the legislature's law amendments committee, but McNeil said it's not just people in this province watching the bill's progress.

Other places watching

On Wednesday, McNeil took a call from his counterpart in Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe.

"He was calling me to tell me how proud he was of our province for moving forward on that [and] that his health minister would be reaching out to our health minister," said McNeil.

He said Moe informed him Sackatchewan has money in its budget to assess bringing in presumed consent there. The issue of organ donation has become especially topical in that province following a campaign started by the family of one of the players killed in the bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team in 2018.

McNeil said the subject might also be discussed at the national premiers' meeting this July in Saskatchewan.

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About the Author

Michael Gorman is a reporter in Nova Scotia whose coverage areas include Province House, rural communities, and health care. Contact him with story ideas at michael.gorman@cbc.ca

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