Across Canada, there currently exists an ‘opt-in’ framework for organ donation. Also known as ‘express consent’, this framework is defined by the presence of an explicit mechanism (e.g. signing of a donor card or registration with a regional organ donation society) by which one makes their wishes known. Our least populated province may be the first to eschew this system.

As reported on Tuesday, Health P.E.I. is considering a shift towards an ‘opt-out’ donation program in an effort to increase the organ yield in their province. Under such a ‘presumed consent’ scheme, a person is automatically considered an organ donor upon their death, unless the deceased had registered their objection while alive. A presumed consent organ donation program is not a new idea; in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Luxembourg, Italy, Austria, Belgium Netherlands, Singapore and Germany, organs and tissues are essentially considered property of the state unless one actively opts out in his/her lifetime. By 2015, Wales hopes to become the first in the UK to join the opt-out trend.  

                                                            

Are there advantages to a presumed consent regime? Don Mills, CEO of Corporate Research Associates summed it aptly: “Most people, if you ask them directly to become an organ donor, they probably will. But if you make them work for it, they’re probably not going to pay too much attention.”  A 2006 U.S. meta-analysis concluded that indeed, opt-out programs had a ‘positive and sizeable effect on organ donation rates’.  Nonetheless, in 2007, the Citizens Panel on Increasing Organ and Tissue Donation rejected a presumed consent framework as a means by which donation rates in Ontario could be boosted, and referred to such a framework as ‘too passive a method to be a clear statement of an individual’s intent.’

Canada’s donation rate (14.4 donors per million population) is one of the lowest in the developing world, and a report released by the Canadian Institute for Health Information earlier this year showed that across the nation, living and deceased donor rates have stagnated since 2006.  30% of people waiting for an organ transplant in Canada die on the waiting list.  Organ donation is a hot topic at present, particularly in the wake of double-lung recipient Hélène Campbell’s herculean efforts in the social media arena to engage both public discussion and personal reflection. This conversation is clearly long overdue.  Will P.E.I.’s voice lead the way?

Jennifer Hartman, guest blogger

[In the spirit of full disclosure, the author’s father-in-law is a member of the Health P.E.I. Board.]