Giving life after death is a beautiful gift, and one organ and tissue donor can save the lives of up to eight people and help improve the lives of up to 75. It’s also one of those topics people don’t normally think of unless it personally affects them or someone they care about, despite the reality that anyone can end up on the waiting list.
Many Canadians think they’re already donors, but long gone are the days we could easily sign up for a decal on our driver’s licence and forget about it. We now have to go to the extra trouble of filling out a form online. This procedure only takes a couple of minutes, but since it’s usually not top of mind, the vast majority of us are not registered.
In fact, only 24 per cent of us are. Among developed countries, our nation ranks near the bottom of the list of donation rates. As a result, organs and tissue that are medically suitable for transplanting are buried or cremated rather than going to someone in desperate need. In 2014 alone, 195 people died while waiting for an organ.
Over 4500 Canadians are currently hoping for a life saving transplant. With 90 per cent of us in favour of participating, there should be no wait at all.
There’s a tried and true solution to preventing these needless tragedies: an opt-out program, also known as presumed consent. What this means is that everyone of a legal age is considered a donor unless they de-register their name. This would require less administrative work, and save precious lives.
Spain provides an outstanding example of how well this has worked. In 1989 when their donor rates were only at 20 percent, Dr. Rafael Matesanz, a kidney specialist was hired to improve the system. They are now a world leader in organ and tissue donation with a vast majority of their citizens embracing the benefits for all.
“It’s a source of national pride,” Matesanz has said. “We are very proud to contribute to the system.”
Some argue there are ethical and religious reasons why this isn’t a good idea. Not only are most religions on board with this life saving concept, the easy and confidential ability for any individual to opt out at any time disputes that objection.
Shelley Hunt from B.C. and Jessica Royan from Alberta are passionate about this cause and they have personally watched too many patients needlessly die when they should have been saved.
They have also witnessed the life support treatments such as dialysis that countless people must endure for lengthy periods of time as they do their best to hold on.
The compassionate women created the “Because I Can Project” with a goal to eliminate that wait. They have worked tirelessly to raise awareness about organ shortage in our country, and they’re actively petitioning for a revamp of the registration process nationwide.
As it stands now, the opt-out program is far within reach. Our government is well aware that thousands of lives could be improved and hundreds could be saved by implementing this superior plan, yet it hasn’t been enacted. Hunt, Royan and other activists will keep pushing for this change while encouraging petition sign ups and organ registrations.
There is no age limit. Canada’s oldest organ donor was 93 and oldest tissue donor was 102. It’s not enough to just register, however. A lot of donations are lost due to family members rejecting the intended donor’s decision while experiencing grief. It’s important those wishes are communicated with them clearly ahead of time.
It’s not necessary to wait until death before giving the gift of life. Healthy people can donate a kidney or part of the liver, lung, intestine, pancreas, bone marrow, or blood to another person.
Hunt became a live donor over a year ago when she gave one of her kidneys to save the life of a stranger. The young mother of two received some criticism for risking her life, but after extensive research, she was confident in the safety of the procedure. It also gave her an unexpected advantage.
“It might seem crazy, but it will actually put me in a safer position than most other Canadians,” she explained. “When you become a live donor, you’re automatically moved to the top of the list, and if I ever need an organ in the future, I’ll get one sooner.”
To check if you’ve registered, and to sign the petition for the opt-out program, please visit BecauseICanProject.com. Once this program is adopted, waiting lists will cease to exist in our country, and treasured lives will be saved.
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at LoriWelbourne.com