Friday, June 24, 2016

The Defeat of Bill C-223 on Organ Donation

The last few weeks have been intriguing in parliament.  Much discussion and hand wringing has occurred over contentious issues such as physician assisted death and changing the words to our national anthem.  Lost in all the commotion was a little publicized private member’s bill, that was tabled by the Member of Parliament for Edmonton Manning, Ziad Aboultaif.  The bill was defeated at second reading on June 15th.

Bill C-223 is a very simple document.  It is only a couple of pages and takes about 10 minute to read.  Quite simply the purpose of the bill is to establish the Canadian Organ Donor Registry and to coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.

The two key issues in this legislation are "coordinate" and "promote."  Most importantly the legislation calls for a national strategy on organ donation.  Canada is losing the battle on organ donation.  Canada's rate of organ donation lags behind many other countries.  A process that is not well understood and is managed very informally in a patchwork of provincial organizations that do not integrate well.

As an example, when Russell was listed for his transplant, our transplant team in Edmonton would routinely get offers of a donor organ that was completely unsuitable.  They would get an offer of a heart that would be coming from an adult.  Not exactly appropriate for an infant that is only a few weeks old.  There are basic inadequacies in the system that make the coordinating of donations unnecessarily difficult.

This legislation is a "no brainer" but of course all of these issues must become politicized.  Again this becomes an issue that if it is not a government priority it is destined to be shelved.  The political rhetoric offered to dismiss legislation such as this is nonsensical.  Kevin Lamoureux, Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons, offered this response to Bill C-223.

"However, I would advise the member that there are already things in place to ensure that we are accomplishing what the member is hoping to accomplish with the legislation. Therefore, I will not be able to vote in favour of his private member's bill. " 

Is Mr Lamoureux correct?  According to the Toronto Star he is woefully incorrect.  In an article published only a few days after Bill C-223 was defeated in parliament, the Toronto Star citing Ontario statistics identified that families are increasingly refusing to allow relatives organs to be used for organ donation.  

From the Toronto Star article:
"In 2013, the province’s organ and transplant registrar recorded 14.5 per cent of families (representing 26 registered donors) who refused consent, a number that climbed to 21.1 per cent (62 donors) last year.
Given that one donor can save eight lives, the would-be donors could have meant a lot of good news for 1,524 people in need of an organ transplant on Ontario’s wait list. Experts say the refusals could prove fatal to those left waiting for a donor."
Even when the perspective donor has stated their intention to donate by signing a donor card. Donor families are refusing to consent to the harvesting of organs.  It is clear that organ donation is suffering from significant PR issues. 

One might also assume that the tabling of this legislation is one MP's pet project.  That there is not support amongst the scientific community for such legislation.  That would also be an incorrect assumption.  On June 15th, Dr Lori West a noted transplant researcher (and one of Russell's Doctors) sent a letter to the Federal Health Minister on behalf of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program where she specifically identifies Bill C-223 as step in the right direction. Letter to the federal minister of health
Potential organ donations are being lost because our system is not functioning as it should.  Unlike the changing of the lyrics of the national anthem, this is a life and death matter and not just political correctness.  This issue matters.  What is our government's response to legislation that may start a conversation on organ donation?  The Liberal government did not allow their members a free vote on this issue but instead "whipped" their vote to ensure the legislation would be defeated.

In a letter dated June 23, 2016 that I received from Mr Aboultiaf, I have been assured by the member that he will not be stopping his efforts to improve and promote the organ donor system in Canada.  I commend Mr Aboutaif for his efforts. For those who wish to support him in this very important issue I suggest you contact your Member of Parliament and voice your support for this kind of legislation and organ donation.

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