Nova Scotia

N.S. sees record number of organ donations in 2020

Nova Scotia is reporting its largest number of organ donations ever, just a month before the province is set to change the laws to a presumed consent system.

Province set to enact first presumed consent donation law in North America

A record number of Nova Scotians became organ donors this year. (Radio-Canada)

Nova Scotia is reporting its largest number of organ donations ever, just a month before the province is set to change the laws to a presumed consent system.

So far in 2020, 32 people have become organ donors.

The number is astonishing to Dr. Stephen Beed, the medical director of Legacy of Life, the province's organ donation program.

"It's remarkable that in the midst of a pandemic that has decreased donation and transplantation activity in almost everywhere else of the world, we've had by far the busiest donation year ever," he said.

By comparison, the highest number of donations over the last 15 years was 26. In 2017, Nova Scotia saw a record low of 16 donors.

"I think this is awesome," said Beed. "I think we have the beginnings of what can be a better and different program."

Opt-out system

On Jan. 18, Nova Scotia will become the first jurisdiction in North America to enact the presumed consent organ donation system

Beed and his team find themselves in a surprising position: they have already achieved the donation target they had hoped to reach five years from now.

"I would hope it's not a one-year blip, but it feels different than that," he said. "Our consent rates have been high, so I think our message has been getting out."

Dr. Stephen Beed says there's been a real change in how people think about organ donation since Nova Scotia announced its new law. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's organ donation system has been undergoing a dramatic reboot to prepare for a possible increase in transplants because of the new system.

By the time that work is finished, Beed said 27 additional staff will be hired to work in one of three areas — donations, transplants and tissue.

The team has also been educating more health-care workers about how to identify possible donors.

"We're getting phone calls and referrals from regional hospitals about potential donors that we might not have had in the past," said Beed. "I think our education and the focus on this topic is changing culture."

There are some exemptions to the new presumed consent law, including children or anyone who lacks decision-making capacity. People will also have the option to opt out if they do not want to be an organ or tissue donor.

Raising awareness

The program is also trying to educate the public. Beed said they have tried to raise awareness through ads on television and on social media, but he believes they have a long way to go to reach minority communities.

He said they've been working with Indigenous and Black leaders to try to find ways to connect with more families.

Beed has repeatedly asked families to openly discuss their wishes in advance of the new law, and he believes that may be working.

So far, just 1,300 people — or less than one per cent of Nova Scotians — have opted out of organ donation.

"Will there be perhaps a flurry right before the law goes live? Yeah, there probably will be," he said.

But Beed no longer thinks the province's opt-out percentage will be over five, which is what they assumed when they started the process.

"Do I think this is a real turnaround? Absolutely it feels different," he said. "The awareness around this, the support for this, it just feels different around the bedside. I think we can do even better."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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