Nova Scotia is poised to become the first North American jurisdiction to adopt an opt-out approach to organ donation, and I sincerely hope it sparks a trend across our country. It is a decision that could quite literally save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives each year. Nova Scotia’s Act Respecting Human Organ and Tissue Donation would presume every adult in the province consents to donation unless they note otherwise on their health card; next of kin will still be consulted. Similar programs in European countries are said to have increased the rate of donation by as much as 35 percent.
Nationally, as many as 90 percent of Canadian say they support organ donation, but across the country the rate of people who have actually opted-in on their official records sits more around 20 percent. Increasing that number of people who actually follow through on their stated support could mean saving the lives of the nearly 5,000 people on transplant waiting lists in this country. Depending on the circumstances around a person’s death, as many as eight of those nearly 5,000 people could be helped by each deceased donor.
I have checked the organ donor box on my official documents every chance I’ve been given. Each time, I think of all the families I’ve known touched by organ transplant. There are three that always stand out as having shaped my understanding of why that consent is important.
Growing up, I knew a boy named Derrick. He was born just 10 days before me, sat just across the aisle in math class our senior year in high school. Our fathers had worked together when we were little and I have several memories of family visits over the years. Derrick and I weren’t close, but he was this kind of constant presence through my youth, even though we’d attended different elementary and junior high schools. Easter weekend of our senior year — a month shy of our 18th birthdays and six weeks or so from graduating high school – Derrick died in an accident. His family were able to consent to several of his organs being donated, and often reflected on the knowledge passed on from the transplant coordination centre that Derrick’s organ recipients were doing well in the years following his death.
The topic of organ donation and the importance of donation was already well established in our community. Carmen Young would have graduated from our high school the year before Derrick; she died in 1992, after spending years sharing her wait for a double-lung transplant. In many ways, as I watched our local community, then our province and eventually our whole country become engaged with Rebecca Schofield’s journey, I was reminded of the way Carmen’s message had reverberated across our country some 20-plus years ago. Carmen’s name, like Becca’s, now remains connected to youth facilities in our home town, as does that of Nicole Meaney. Five years before Carmen died, Nicole was struck by a vehicle on her way to school. She died, at the age of 14, and is noted as being the first multi-organ donor in Cape Breton.
Nicole didn’t have the chance to advocate for organ donation, but her death and subsequent donations were certainly on the minds of people in our community when Carmen’s need for a transplant allowed her to become a national figure, pushing the issue. Last summer Carmen’s father noted that, more than 25 years after his daughter’s public advocacy, Nova Scotia boasted the highest rate of organ donations in the country. Seems presumed consent is a natural next step, and one New Brunswick might consider following soon.