Humboldt Broncos player's organ donation prompts call for stronger protocol around consent

Logan Boulet, who died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, donated his organs to six people. As this tragedy highlights organ donation, advocates want to see better protocol so opportunities for donors aren't lost.
Logan Boulet, 21, was among the 16 that died in the Humboldt Broncos' bus crash. His decision to donate his organs led to a wave of people signing up to become organ donors, across the country. (SJHL)
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Logan Boulet's family honoured the Humboldt Broncos player's wish to donate his organs following Friday's devastating Saskatchewan crash.

The 21-year-old — who registered to be a donor mere weeks ago — is expected to save six lives. His other organs will be donated to science, the family said.​ His organ donation has also prompted others to follow suit. 

For Christine Milligan, that is reason alone to strengthen organ donation protocols.

She knows all too well what the Boulet family is going through. Her daughter Cassidey Ouellette died in a single-vehicle crash near Hastings, Ont., last August — just shy of her 20th birthday.

Christine Milligan, left, is pictured with her daughter, Cassidey Ouellette, who died in a car accident on Aug. 4, 2017. Milligan was shocked when staff at hospital asked if she wanted to reverse Cassidey's decision to be an organ donor. (Supplied)

"When Cassidey got her licence at 16, she signed her organ donor card and she made it quite aware to us that she wanted to be an organ donor," Milligan told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

But following her daughter's death, she could've vetoed her daughter's wish to donate her organs, she said. Legal experts say even if someone in Canada registers to be an organ donor, their family can quash that request due to a disconnect between the law and policy.

"We could have revoked her wishes and that would have been a real shame."

"Cassidey wouldn't want that. She'd want to help other people."

Milligan's brother, former Progressive Conservative MPP Rob Milligan, put forward a private member's bill in 2012 to change organ donation protocols. He proposed that if a person signed their organ donor card, it could not be overturned. The bill was left in limbo when former premier Dalton McGuinty prorogued the Ontario legislature.

When Cassidey was pronounced dead, both Milligan and Cassidy's father had no doubt that donating their daughter's organs was the right thing to do.

"We supported her throughout her entire life so ... we wanted to support her last decision that she was able to make."

Overriding organ donor consent

Dr. Stephen Beed, an intensive care physician and a medical advisor for the Nova Scotia organ and tissue donation program, has encountered families overriding a loved one's wishes to donate their organs.

"It's a tough situation," he said. "These are overwhelmed, stressed, distressed, exhausted families."

Mourners comfort each other as people attend a vigil at the Elgar Petersen Arena, home of the Humboldt Broncos, to honour the victims of the fatal bus accident in Humboldt, Sask. (Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)

Beed said conversations about organ donation can prompt confusion and can be too hard to face, particularly in the context of a loved one who was healthy in the morning and is suddenly gone.

"So the health-care teams may err on the side of supporting this distressed family, even if that means the donation opportunity comes and goes."

It can be very hard for medical staff to confront families in this emotional state, he added.

While revoking an organ donor's consent is not common, Beed said it's always "a very difficult thing when it happens."

He added that the number of people who would qualify clinically as potential organ donors "is ballpark one per cent or so of the people who would die in an ICU."

Improving donation rates

As someone working to improve the rates of organ and tissue donation, Beed advocates for a system and infrastructure that includes intensive care physicians trained to deal with addressing organ donation conversations with families. 

He also recommends donation physicians who offer support for medical teams.

"Having trained coordinators who are familiar and deal with this regularly really does improve the consent discussion."

Organ registries in B.C. and Ontario have reported a bump in interest in the days since the bus crash in Humboldt, Sask. (Whitney Curtis/Associated Press)

Beed said one of the key components present in successful systems is a donation specific program led by the appropriate people, "so that donation becomes part of the medical culture."

As a doctor who has been working at two of the Saskatoon hospitals that have been caring for the accident victims of the Humboldt bus crash, Beed said there is something good that has come from such devastation.

THE HUMBOLDT BRONCOS TRAGEDY: 

"The real benefit may not be if there's other organs here but it's related to the fact that many people across the country are now thinking about this," he said.

"This is an opportunity to just think about, is there any positive that can come out of what is such a terrible tragedy? And the potential for organ donation and tissue donation is one them."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this page, where you can also share this article across email, Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.


This segment was produced by The Current's Geoff Turner, Idella Sturino and Winnipeg Network Producer Suzanne Dufresne.

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