A private member’s bill that would have seen all Manitobans registered as organ donors unless they opted out died last week after members of the Progressive Conservative caucus voted against it.

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This article was published 6/11/2017 (1439 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


A private member’s bill that would have seen all Manitobans registered as organ donors unless they opted out died last week after members of the Progressive Conservative caucus voted against it.

That’s too bad, because the party could really use a stronger backbone and a bigger heart.

Jill Toyoshiba / The Kansas City Star</p><p>Surgeons remove a kidney from a living organ donor.</p></p>

Jill Toyoshiba / The Kansas City Star

Surgeons remove a kidney from a living organ donor.

This province has one of the lowest rates of organ donation in Canada, despite campaigns aimed at getting potential donors to make their wishes official by registering online at signupforlife.ca.

In Manitoba, hundreds of people are waiting for new kidneys, hearts, livers, lungs or pancreases. Presumed consent would go a long way to changing the staggering statistic that every 36 hours, a Canadian dies waiting for a transplant.

The government’s response to voting down the bill was couched in mealy-mouthed language about respecting religious beliefs and concern for those who may not understand the opt-out option.

Rather than having the guts to make a trail-blazing, truly progressive decision that puts public health first and takes steps towards rectifying Canada’s dismal donation statistics, they chose to hide behind a politically expedient response that illustrates a fundamental lack of understanding about how organ donation works.

On Thursday, after Independent MLA Steven Fletcher conceded defeat on his bill, the PCs called a rare special committee to study the issue of organ donation.

The makeup of the committee has yet to be determined, but one hopes it includes doctors, families of donors and organ recipients who can help illuminate the process and open up a public conversation.

Resistance to the idea of presumed consent seems to be fuelled by the misguided notion that ambulance-chasing doctors will be ghoulishly standing by, scalpels in hand, to harvest organs from still-warm bodies.

First, the chance that a person will die in a way that makes his or her organs suitable for donation is already slim.

More than 10,000 people die a year in Manitoba, but only a fraction of those are eligible for the transplant program. Less than three per cent of all deaths qualify for organ donation; a person is five times more likely to need an organ than to qualify to be a donor.

Second, though there’s nothing in provincial legislations technically allowing next-of-kin to override an individual’s consent, health authorities across the country have a blanket policy of following the family’s wishes.

In 49 per cent of cases in Manitoba, if families aren’t sure of the deceased’s stance on donation, they refuse the procedure. There are no statistics, however, on how many say yes.

Those who argue that they don’t want the government telling them what to do with their bodies should realize the real power lies with their families.

Under the current system, even those who have made their intentions clear by filling out organ-donor cards or registering online might not have their wishes honoured.

In about 10 per cent of cases, organ donation is vetoed by family members.

By the same token, people who, either for religious reasons or personal preference, want to take their organs with them to the grave might not think about the fact that, unless they have provided a health directive spelling out their end-of-life desires, their families can make whatever decision they see fit.

In essence, the system is already relying on individuals to opt in or opt out; if not officially, then through frank conversations with their loved ones.

Ushering in presumed consent would, one hopes, have made those conversations something that happened before it was too late for the more than 200 Manitobans waiting for a kidney.