NS presumes people want to donate organs when they die, but uptake of program unclear

HALIFAX – Almost a year after Nova Scotia became the first jurisdiction in North America to assume residents agree to donate organs upon death, it’s hard to get a picture of how the program is used .

Under Nova Scotia’s Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act, which came into force on January 18, anyone in the province is presumed to have consented to the removal and donation of their organs, unless they have opted out. be withdrawn from the program during his lifetime. This contrasts with the rest of the continent, where people have to register.

Dr Stephen Beed, medical director of the provincial organ and tissue donation program, said the COVID-19 pandemic shut down his department between May and June, diverting staff to other areas of the system health.

“Concluding anything in a year like this is going to be difficult,” Beed said in a recent interview, adding that he suspected the year-end figures on giving rates could be skewed. However, he said it’s hard to predict by how much.

Nonetheless, he expressed optimism that the number of preliminary references was “significantly up” earlier this year. “When we started this we had a donor count that was in the high teen age range and we wanted to reach our mid to high 20s,” Beed said. “I certainly hope that’s where we’re going to be as a new standard and maybe higher than that.”

Beed said the most recent figures indicate that about 50,000 people – about five percent of the province’s population – have so far withdrawn. “We know from Canadian survey data that the percentage of people who say they want to opt out is over five percent,” Beed said.

He said he also wondered if more public education was needed, given the number of people who called the organ donation program to ask for information on whether to opt out. He said many mistakenly assume they are not medically qualified as donors.

“There are people who choose not to participate for reasons that we believe warrant more education, because they are not saying they disagree with the approach, is that it there are misconceptions out there, ”he said.

Nova Scotia’s progress is being followed with interest by several Canadian provinces. Manitoba has long debated the issue of deemed consent. Earlier this year, the provincial law reform commission produced a consultation paper on the subject, noting a similar bill under consideration in provinces such as Ontario, Quebec and Alberta.

Manitoba, however, continues to have a membership model in which people can choose through an online registry to be an organ donor.

Dr. Faisal Siddiqui, physician in the Gift of Life program at Transplant Manitoba, said he was curious to see what effect the Nova Scotia law will have. But with COVID-19 posing a challenge for programs across the country, Siddiqui said there was unlikely to be an accurate and early reading of his progress.

“COVID has done a trick for all of us and it’s almost like you can’t trust the numbers right now because the change you might see is maybe being confused or confused by this issue,” he said. -he declares. If there was a noticeable increase in organ donation over time, the message would spread across the country, Siddiqui said.

“If this is the way the company chooses to proceed, I would support it,” he said. “I think it can help me as a doctor take care of people who have organ failure to the point of needing a transplant.”

In New Brunswick, a Liberal opposition private member’s bill, based largely on Nova Scotia law, was introduced in the spring and is currently under consideration by the Legislative Amendments Committee of the Legislative Assembly. The bill has the full support of the New Brunswick Medical Society. Society President Dr. Mark MacMillan made a presentation to the committee in October.

MacMillan said if the province went ahead there would be a potential pool of 420,000 people who could be organ or tissue donors. He said a number of jurisdictions have an interest in whether Nova Scotia shows an improvement in numbers over time.

“Any data that shows a positive improvement in organ donation rates and percentages would be beneficial across the country, including here in New Brunswick,” MacMillan said in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, work continues to strengthen Nova Scotia’s transplant system, which Beed says is key to supporting the shift to presumed consent. He added that donor physicians were added last year in Cape Breton, the Annapolis Valley and the Halifax area, and were added this year in Amherst, Truro and Yarmouth. The plan is to add two more in 2022.

“What we imagine could happen as our system matures is that donation procedures are performed at regional hospitals outside of Halifax,” Beed said.

According to Canadian Blood Services, which is the national collaborating body for provincial transplant systems, approximately 4,400 Canadians are waiting for an organ transplant.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 6, 2021.

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