New Articles of Interest

New law increases organ donations
Major hospitals now required to report deaths to registry
But hundreds are still on waiting lists to get transplants

Mar. 22, 2006. 04:40 AM

The number of life-saving organ donations in Ontario has tripled to 17 in the last two months, with officials crediting a new law requiring major hospitals to report deaths to the province's organ registry.

"It's early days, but we're very confident these numbers will continue to increase," Frank Markel, chief executive of the Trillium Gift of Life Network, said yesterday as the registry began a push for more donations.

That will require more people to sign organ donor cards and make their wishes known to family members, who typically make the final decision while they are coping with tragedy.

Right now about half the families approached agree to donate a loved one's organs and tissues like corneas — a rate Markel hopes to boost to 90 per cent.

The dramatic rise in organ transplants — up from five for the same period last year — shows the progress that can be made with help from government and better public education, said Markel.

But he noted there are still 1,866 Ontarians on the waiting list for organs and tissue, and that, on average, every three days, someone on the waiting list dies.

"Those are stark numbers," said Markel, who was joined at a news conference at the Hospital for Sick Children by two teens on the list.

At 13, Brandon Gibson is waiting for new lungs to replace ones so diseased with cystic fibrosis that he had to stop playing hockey and must pause to catch his breath while riding his bike.

"I have a lot of things to catch up on," said Brandon. "I look forward to being just any other kid."

Waiting for a new liver for more than two years has kept Josephine Fosuwaa, a 16-year-old with sickle cell disease, out of class and on pins and needles — including a false alarm when a liver appeared to be ready for her a few weeks ago.

"Something went wrong and it didn't really go through, so now I'm waiting again," said Fosuwaa.

Health Minister George Smitherman hinted the government might further aid the cause of organ and tissue donation after debate on several private members' bills in the Legislature this spring.

Progressive Conservative MPP Frank Klees (Oak Ridges) proposes that Ontarians not get renewed drivers' licences or health cards unless they declare they are willing, unwilling or undecided on whether to donate organs and tissue when they die, an approach Markel has applauded. It will be debated March 30.

Meanwhile, New Democrat Peter Kormos (Niagara Centre) advocates a more controversial policy called "presumed consent" in which organs and tissues are harvested from the deceased unless they have expressly forbidden it.

"We're looking today at moving forward in a variety of ways," Smitherman said. "Those bills will, of course, be an important part of that consideration."

The bills are sure to spark a public debate, said Markel. "We need to have a discussion ... we welcome that discussion."

He said the reporting of deaths to the organ registry — alerting specially trained teams to approach physicians and families involved — will be expanded to more hospitals from the current 13 later this year.

He also hopes that people who have suffered "cardiac death" will be eligible to donate by the end of the year. Currently, only brain-dead patients can have organs and tissues harvested.

Most of the people on the waiting list need liver and kidney transplants. There have been 161 organ and tissue transplants so far this year.

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