The Sunday Magazine

How Canada could change its 'pathetic' organ donation record: Michael's essay

As Nova Scotia introduces a new bill to automatically make every citizen an organ donor, host Michael Enright asks what's stopping us all from following the province's lead.
With thousands of Canadians on the waiting list for a transplant on any given day, host Michael Enright asks: Is it ethical to let more of them die? (Shutterstock)

Let us bow our heads in gratitude and raise a glass to the province of Nova Scotia. Impossible to do at the same time, I grant you, but give it a shot.

A grateful nation has many reasons to thank Nova Scotia: the landscape, Pier 21, the people, lobster, Bob Stanfield, Lunenburg and Joe Howe.

The latest contribution of the Bluenose province to the betterment of mankind came this week when the provincial government introduced a bill to make every Nova Scotian an automatic organ donor.

When the bill becomes law, Nova Scotia will become the first jurisdiction in North America to operate a donor system known as presumed consent.

Under this system, everyone is considered willing to donate an organ unless he or she makes the determination to opt out.

It is used in 20 European countries and has led to an increase in organ donations and transplants.

'Pathetic' Canadian donation record

It couldn't come at a better time. In terms of donation, Canada's record is pathetic.

While more than 80 per cent of us say we believe in donation, only 20 per cent of us have made plans.

Nationally, the rate is about 20.9 donors per million people. This puts us well behind the United States and the U.K.
The nation with the highest rate of organ donation is Spain.

As many as 20 per cent of Canadian families refuse to transplant a registered donor's organs. And I can't understand why. Since all our organs are going to turn into a worm banquet anyway, why keep them?

One organ donor can save up to eight lives and a tissue donor can benefit up to 75 individuals.

At the moment, British Columbia and Alberta have the highest number of living donors, with 19.8 per million.

Up until 2015, Saskatchewan had the lowest rate in Canada, but things have started to change.

Humboldt player sparked jump in organ donations

Humboldt Broncos hockey player Logan Boulet is seen in this undated handout photo. The donation of his organs helped spur a national movement known as the Logan Boulet Effect. (Toby Boulet/The Canadian Press-HO)

Sometimes it takes a tragedy. Young Logan Boulet was one of those killed in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash. When it was discovered that he had signed a donation card and that six people had benefited from his organs, donations increased and are on the way up.

Naturally, there are some people opposed to the new system. It would be un-Canadian if we did not protest a new government initiative.

There is the feeling that, somehow, presumed consent takes away a person's right to choose.

An ethics professor at the University of Toronto says that Canadians of different cultures and religious values would have objections to the removal of organs from a deceased family member.

Naturally, those concerns have to be addressed with great understanding and sensitivity. After all, the survivors are likely going through the worst time of their life.

It comes down to a question of moral balance. On any given day, there are 4,000 Canadians on a list waiting for a transplant.

Is it ethical to let more of them die?

Click 'listen' above to hear the essay.


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