I would like to update people on a seminar that I recently attended on the legal issues involved with the donation of organs and tissue. This is an important subject matter because there is a chronic shortage of organs and tissue in Canada. The legal requirements are set out in Provincial legislation called the Trillium Gift of Life Act (previously called the Human Tissue Gift Act until recent amendments). The amendments established the Trillium Gift of Life Network. This Network is responsible for planning, promoting, coordinating and supporting organ and tissue donation in Ontario.
One of the amendments spells out a new definition for tissue as "a part of a living or dead human body and includes an organ...but...does not include bone marrow, spermatozoa, an ovum, an embryo, a fetus, blood or blood constituents." Thus, these body parts or fluids are not governed by the Act (there is other legislation which applies, as applicable).
One aspect of the law is that donations, which can be done by donor card (most Provincial Government offices have them), are legally binding on the estate of the deceased. However, we were told that there is an unofficial policy that the authorities and designated facilities (designated hospitals and etc.) will not enforce a legal donation against the wishes of the family. Thus, it is important for donors to tell their executors and family members of their wishes (in addition to completing the donor card). Donors can also register their intentions through OHIP's donor registry.
Some facts that people should know are:
-older people can donate...the oldest known tissue donor in Canada was 102
-donation is confidential and no one need know unless your family tells them
-it is carried out with surgical skill, respect and dignity and does not interfere with funeral practices
-there were 1,704 people waiting in Ontario as of September 9th for an organ transplant
-of those people, 1,263 were waiting for kidneys, followed by 317 waiting for livers (down the line were heart, lung and etc.)
-the waiting list for donations has increased almost 3 times in the last 11 years but unfortunately, the number of actual donors has not increased during that time (hence the increasing shortage)
-organs that can be donated after death include heart, liver, kidneys, pancreas, lungs, small bowel, stomach, corneas, heat valves, bone and skin
-donations can be by living donors (this applies obviously to people donating one of their kidneys or part of their livers)
I will close this article with some humour. After the presentation by Network staff and an prominent transplant doctor, the moderator finished by saying, in a slip of the tongue, that there was time left for "donations", if anyone had any. There were a few chuckles.
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