Make or­gan do­na­tion eas­ier

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - MARIO CANSECO

The life ex­pectancy of Cana­di­ans continues to climb, par­tic­u­larly when com­pared with what is tran­spir­ing in the United States. A Cana­dian born in 2009 can ex­pect to live more than 81 years, ap­prox­i­mately three years more than his or her Amer­i­can neigh­bour.

When the cur­rent pro­jec­tions are com­pared with what was ob­served at the start of the 1960s, Cana­di­ans have added a full decade to their life­span. Ad­vances in med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy and a func­tion­ing health-care sys­tem are usu­ally cited as rea­sons to ex­plain this suc­cess. Still, there is an is­sue where other coun­tries are way ahead of Canada: or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion.

The fed­eral govern­ment re­ports that in 2016, more than 2,800 or­gans were suc­cess­fully trans­planted in our coun­try. This may sound like an im­pres­sive num­ber, but more than 4,500 Cana­di­ans were on a wait­ing list for an or­gan. More than 250 died be­fore a suit­able or­gan be­came avail­able.

Or­gan do­na­tion is no longer as con­tro­ver­sial as it once may have been, and sev­eral coun­tries around the world have seen so­ci­o­log­i­cal and re­li­gious changes as an op­por­tu­nity to save lives.

For decades, or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion re­lied pri­mar­ily on an “opt-in” sys­tem. In­di­vid­u­als had to specif­i­cally and un­equiv­o­cally state that they wanted to be­come or­gan donors.

In re­cent years, an “opt-out” sys­tem has been im­ple­mented

in coun­tries such as Aus­tria, Bel­gium and Spain. This pol­icy is also known as “ac­tive donor reg­is­tra­tion,” and es­sen­tially man­dates that ev­ery per­son over the age of 18 is con­sid­ered an or­gan and tis­sue donor un­less they specif­i­cally ask not to be in­cluded in a registry.

Ear­lier this year, Nova Sco­tia made his­tory by en­act­ing the first ac­tive donor reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem for or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion af­ter death in North Amer­ica. With the unan­i­mous pas­sage of the Hu­man Or­gan and Tis­sue Do­na­tion Act, the At­lantic prov­ince made ev­ery sin­gle per­son who has resided in Nova Sco­tia for at least a year a po­ten­tial donor. The law al­lows res­i­dents who do not wish to be donors to opt out at the time of their choos­ing.

Nova Sco­tia’s leg­is­la­tion will not go into full ef­fect un­til next sum­mer but is sim­i­lar to what some coun­tries have done in the past. Hav­ing an ac­tive donor reg­is­tra­tion or opt-out sys­tem vastly in­creases the chances of suit­able or­gans reach­ing the pa­tients who des­per­ately need them.

Two Euro­pean coun­tries pro­vide an ex­cel­lent ex­am­ple of what this type of leg­is­la­tion can bring. In Aus­tria, the opt-out sys­tem has en­abled 99 per cent of avail­able and suit­able or­gans to reach wait­ing pa­tients. In neigh­bour­ing Ger­many, where the sys­tem is still an opt-in, the rate is a pal­try 12 per cent.

Re­search Co. asked Cana­di­ans about ac­tive donor reg­is­tra­tion in their prov­ince, and a ma­jor­ity (63 per cent) say he or she would “def­i­nitely” or “prob­a­bly” like to im­ple­ment this sys­tem for or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion in their prov­ince, while only one in four (25 per cent) dis­agrees.

There is no gen­der gap in the level of sup­port for this pol­icy be­com­ing a coun­try­wide en­deav­our, with 63 per cent of both men and women say­ing they would like to see this change. All age groups – mil­len­ni­als, gen­er­a­tion X and baby boomers – are also in favour of the idea.

In three Cana­dian prov­inces, two-thirds of res­i­dents (66 per cent) en­dorse a move to ac­tive donor reg­is­tra­tion: Bri­tish Columbia, Al­berta and Que­bec. Sup­port is slightly lower – but still rep­re­sents a ma­jor­ity – in Man­i­toba and Saskatchew­an (63 per cent), At­lantic Canada (59 per cent) and On­tario (57 per cent).

The sur­vey shows that Cana­di­ans are ready to take or­gan and tis­sue do­na­tion to the next level, as sev­eral coun­tries have al­ready done. A sys­tem sim­i­lar to the one Nova Sco­tia’s law­mak­ers unan­i­mously en­dorsed is seen in a pos­i­tive light by a ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents in ev­ery re­gion. Leg­is­la­tors in On­tario are ac­tively dis­cussing whether to fol­low Nova Sco­tia’s lead. Their coun­ter­parts in the rest of the coun­try should join them.

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