Monday, April 23, 2007


Choose the gift of life

It's National Organ Donation Week in Canada.

Those of you who have been reading for a while know that this is an annual post for me. I wrote about it in 2005 and again in 2006. And you know what? I'll write about it again in 2008 and 2009. I'll keep writing about it, and I'll keep talking about it, because somebody in Canada dies every three days waiting for an organ donation. Every three days a family loses a father, a mother, a brother, a sister - or a child - because there simply aren't enough organs for all the people on waiting lists. A single donor can make a difference in as many as fifty people's lives. And that's just the recipients; think of the families of all those people given a second chance at life, or the chance to overcome blindness, or the chance at restored mobility through a bone graft.

Here in Canada, we have one of the lowest donor rates in the industrialized world. There has been a call for a national donor registrant database (but because health is a provincial / territorial jurisdiction, it would be hard to manage on a national level.) In a pilot program in BC, living donors are reimbursed for expenses like travel costs and lost wages. Ontario is considering a similar program. Ontario has recently decided against an 'opt-out' approach to organ donations after an expert panel recommended against it. The same article noted that almost half of the families of people who would make good donors are saying no.

That's one of the major problems: even if you have signed an organ donor card, that information may not be immediately available when it's most needed. Doctors often must rely on family members for consent, and if your family doesn't know what you want, your wishes might not be respected. Another article notes: "Studies show about 50% of Canadians are unaware of what their loved ones wanted regarding organ and tissue donations. Yet 96% of relatives in Canada agree to organ donation if they're aware that their deceased loved one was in favour of donating." It's not enough to simply register as an organ donor; you have to talk to your family and make your wishes known.

Organ donation is an issue close to my heart: my dad had a life-saving liver transplant in 2001, when I was six months pregnant with Tristan. My boys are blissfully oblivious to how close we all came to losing Papa Lou. I never forget it.

I was playing with Simon in the car the other day. We were being silly, laughing together, and I said, "Who loves you the most in the whole wide world, Simon?" And Simon didn't even stop to think about it. "Papa Lou!" he cried with delight. Not me, or Beloved. Not even Granny, who spoils him with lollipops and marshmallows and just about every other thing his little heart desires. Papa Lou, whom he would have never met if it weren't for the lifegiving generosity of an organ donor and his or her family.

Sign your donor card and tell your family. Choose the gift of life.