Tom Kmiec on Organ Donation

Choosing to be an organ donor is a deeply personal choice. When my son was diagnosed with a rare genetic condition that will likely require a kidney transplant before he turns 30, I looked at my health card many months later and chose to become an organ donor. It was an easy decision to make but it required a major life event, a family crisis, to get me to even think about it. And when you look at the numbers, the picture is not rosy.

Over the past two years, 176 Albertans have died while on an organ donation waiting list. Today, there are roughly 4,500 people on waiting lists, hoping to receive a life-saving organ donation.

Can you believe, that as part of the industrialized world, Canada has one of the lowest organ donation rates? Hard to believe, but Alberta has one of the lowest organ donations rates in the country.

Of the Albertans currently awaiting organ donation, 33% will likely never receive the life-saving transplant they need. And in 2012, 230 Canadians died waiting for an organ transplant.

The sad reality of organ donation is that usually someone must die in order for organs to become available for donation. Living donors are possible, for instance when a healthy person chooses to become a living donor and donates a kidney. The cost of an organ transplant, in the case of a kidney, is far lower than the cost of keeping a person on hemo-dialysis. So why don’t more people consent to organ donation if the unthinkable should occur?

Alberta created a provincial agency just this year to coordinate organ donation as well as seeking informed consent for organ donation during the vehicle registration process. These small changes will have a big impact on the organ donation rate and will reduce the number of avoidable wait-list deaths. 

While the provision and operation of the healthcare system is rightly a provincial jurisdiction, there is a coordinating role that the federal government can play.

I am in politics because I want to make life better for families – and helping families like mine who may require an organ transplant for a family member is a big part of that. As a federal Conservative MP, I would support measures that:

  • Help provinces create their own registries and support the maintenance of registries in provinces where they exist today.
  • Improve coordination between provincial registries so that available organs get to those who need them regardless of which province they reside in.
  • Oppose mandatory organ donation as it deprives people of their personal freedom, further hurts grieving families who object to organ donation, and ultimately damages the cause of voluntary organ donation.
  • Study a system of “reciprocal preferred access” or opt-in where those who sign up to donate have priority access, like in Israel.
  • Offer tax credits to Canadians who choose to make living organ donations. This could partially offset the costs of making a life-saving donation (time off work, recuperation, lost wages and other reasonable costs).