House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organ.

Topics

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I declare the motion carried.

(Bill read the third time and passed)

Safe Streets and Communities Act
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Pursuant to order made on Thursday, December 1, 2011, the House shall now resolve itself into committee of the whole to consider Motion No. 9 under Government Business.

I do now leave the chair for the House to go into the Committee of the Whole.

(House in committee of the whole on Government Business No. 9, Ms. Denise Savoie in the chair)

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

NDP

The Chair Denise Savoie

Before we begin this evening's debate, I would like to remind hon. members of how the proceedings will unfold.

Each member speaking will be allotted 10 minutes for debate, followed by 10 minutes for questions and comments. The debate will end after four hours or when no member rises to speak.

Pursuant to the order adopted Thursday, December 1, 2011, the Chair will receive no dilatory motions, no quorum calls and no requests for unanimous consent.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

York—Simcoe
Ontario

Conservative

Peter Van Loan Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

moved:

That this Committee take note of the importance of organ donations.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:10 p.m.

Oshawa
Ontario

Conservative

Colin Carrie Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health

Madam Chair, I would like every member of the House to think about someone they love. Think of what it would be like if that person's kidneys failed, or if a congenital defect was found in his or her heart. That kind of bad news is delivered to a Canadian home too often.

Let me tell members a story of one of our colleagues here on the Hill.

In 2005, Garry Keller dropped 40 pounds without even trying. He was always tired, lethargic and when he woke up in the morning, he felt like he had already worked a 15-hour day. He was exhausted, but in reality his kidneys were already failing.

In May of that year, he was getting ready for work one morning when he almost passed out in the shower. That was a sign that he needed to see a doctor. He had some blood work done and shortly thereafter was diagnosed with kidney failure.

What was the likely cause? As a child he often suffered from bouts of strep throat. Doctors hypothesized that over a long period of time these strep infections eventually caused long-term damage to his kidneys. Overnight, his world changed.

Following the visit to the doctor, he required an immediate blood transfusion and hemodialysis, which was done at the hospital through arteries and veins. Within three months, he was able to switch to peritoneal dialysis after being trained by the great and professional team of doctors and nurses at the Home Dialysis Clinic at the Ottawa Hospital.

Since September 2005, he has been on dialysis every day for nine hours each night while sleeps. Due to great health management, he has also been able to work and maintain a full life during that time and has served in a number of roles, including chief of staff to two ministers in three portfolios. More important, he was able to marry his beautiful, strong and supportive wife, Anna, whom he loves dearly.

His doctors told him that he would eventually need a kidney transplant. If that was not bad enough news, he was also informed that due to his rare blood type, B, his wait might be longer than the average of four years in Ottawa and eastern Ontario. They were right. He has been on a waiting list for over six years.

As an only child, his family is small. While some family and friends offered to be donors, they were all disqualified due to familial histories of diabetes or other ailments such as high blood pressure. While dialysis has kept him relatively healthy, he has always known that it was not a permanent solution. The only solution was to have a kidney transplant.

After a recent health scare put him in the hospital for two days, doctors stressed, in a follow-up appointment, that the risk to long-term damage to his other organs and blood vessels would increase significantly the longer he remained on dialysis. They told him to reach out to friends, family and acquaintances to see if someone would step up to be a living donor.

Last week he took their advice and the response has been overwhelming. Not only have friends and acquaintances from across Ottawa responded to his call, but in some cases, complete strangers from across Canada have inquired about how they could be a donor.

In order to find a donor, he had to go as public as possible. The good news is that in addition to a number of people stepping forward considering to be donors, his situation has brought attention to the need for greater organ donation across Canada, both through living heroes as well as Canadians signing up to be organ donors if the unthinkable happened to them.

For Garry, hopefully there will be good news. However, for far too many, the good news will never come. There are far more people in need of donated organs in the country than there are donors.

The human body is a complicated piece of machinery made up of many parts. Our lives depend on many individual vital organs working together to keep us healthy. The failure of any one of these organs can cause serious harm to our health and even cause death. When an organ fails, there is always the hope that a donated one can be found. They can come from a person whose life could not be saved, or from a living donor.

We have a responsibility to make Canadians aware of just how great the need is for many organs. There is always a need for kidneys, livers, lungs and hearts for transplants, to name just a few. We have to demonstrate how donated organs save lives and change lives.

Although health care, and specifically organ donations and transplants, fall under provincial and territorial jurisdiction, we all have a role to play. The Government of Canada regulates safety issues around organ donations and transplants so that these operations are as effective and safe as possible.

The federal, provincial and territorial governments have contributed to a $35 million fund to establish a coordinated national organ donor registration and allocation system. Money is also being spent to support best practices, and to educate and raise public awareness. Canadians are very aware of the need for organ transplants.

Nonetheless the shortage of suitable donors is still the greatest obstacle. There are long waiting lists for every major organ and for some they can be waiting for years. It is encouraging to note that advances in medical science are allowing more Canadians with organ failure to live longer. However, this is also contributing to the increase in demand for donated organs.

Part of the challenge in organ transplantation is not simply the lack of donors, it is the fact that not all potential donors are suitable matches for those in need of an organ. In order for a transplant to be successful, organ donors need to match on a wide range of clinical factors. For starters, they have to be the right blood type and have the right size organ for a person on the waiting list.

Organs transplants are not always possible due to the poor health of some potential recipients. Many—if not most—recipients have an underlying illness forcing them go on a waiting list. Before a patient can receive an organ, the patient’s doctor has to determine how serious the illness is and how long the patient has been on a waiting list. In order to ensure greater compatibility between donor and recipient, the pool of potential donors must be increased.

To do that, we have to make Canadians aware of the shortages and we have to get more people to sign their organ donor cards. Live donation is also an option in some cases. For example, we are born with two kidneys, but we can live a very healthy life with just one. Therefore, kidney transplants from live donors have been growing in recent years.

In the last 20 years, the number of live donors has doubled. The number of live donors, both related and unrelated to the recipients, has steadily increased in Canada for kidney, liver and single lung transplants. However, by far the most common live donation is of a kidney.

Advances in medical science are also helping to make it possible to use organs from older donors who in the past may not have been considered suitable donors. As well, we are finding that many older donors are suitable if they have kept themselves in good physical condition.

A single donor who is in good health has the potential to donate a heart, liver, two lungs, two kidneys, a pancreas and bowel to a number of different recipients. However, in reality, that is not always the case. Nonetheless, the number of multiple organ donations from a single donor has been steadily increasing.

Recent statistics show the number of transplants every year is roughly double the number of donors. The generosity of those who selflessly donate cannot be overstated. However, more work needs to be done to raise awareness of this issue and how Canadians can help.

To drive home just how important an issue this is, we need only to remember that roughly 200 people die every year waiting for an organ transplant. In other words, 200 lives could be saved every year if we could find a matching donor. As I mentioned, the provinces and territories are largely responsible for delivering health care, including organ and tissue donation and transplantation.

There have been many important initiatives across the country and I would like to acknowledge a few of them to give the House a sense of the great work that is being done.

In Manitoba, for example, the province is funding a team of hospital-based specialists in organ donation. That team is part of a Manitoba strategy to increase overall donation by more than 20%.

In Ontario there is a new online donor registration system that is proving to be very successful. BeADonor.ca is a new online registration system for donors and it is the first of its kind. It takes three minutes to register as an organ donor and those three minutes could save the lives of up to eight people.

A new national program called the living donor paired exchange registry is also helping to match donors with recipients and give new hope to people living with chronic kidney disease. The registry is a partnership between Canadian Blood Services and kidney transplant programs across the country. It was launched as a three province pilot in January 2009, but continued to expand to other provinces. With Quebec's enrolment in October 2010, it became a Canada-wide registry.

The registry recently passed an important milestone. It made its 100th match between a living donor and a recipient.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:20 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Chair, I am glad we are having this important take note debate tonight. It is on a very important issue and it is very personal to thousands of people.

I was looking through material and research in preparation for tonight's debate. One thing I was interested to learn was there was a significant report from the health committee of Parliament in 1999. It made some recommendations and flowing from that, the Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation was established in 2001.

Although some work has been done, we really have not made much progress on the establishment of a national coordinated strategy for donations and transplants. Although individual provinces have their own programs, we are lacking in that regard.

I do not know if the parliamentary secretary is familiar with that 1999 report, but it made a whole series of recommendations. The first one was a coordinated pan-Canadian strategy and high quality provincial-territorial strategies and then it went on from there.

Would the parliamentary secretary comment on whether he thinks we have made the progress that should have made since 2001 when this council was set up and what more could we do in that regard?

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Madam Chair, as far as are we there yet, I do not think we are. More needs to be done.

As I said in my speech, we do have a living donor paired exchange registry, which was a three province pilot, but with Quebec's enrollment in 2010, it actually has become a Canada-wide registry.

What we need to do, and this is why I thanked parliamentarians this evening for allowing this debate to happen, is make Canadians aware of the need. Far too many Canadians do not think that perhaps their lives could save up to eight people.

I mentioned that there is a new innovative online service in Ontario, BeADonor.ca. I want Canadians to start to look at that. I remember when I was younger, we had a driver's licence, and colleagues who are about my age might remember this, that we had to flip over and sign. For me that was a very difficult thing to do, to even think about my own fatality and losing my life, but I signed it because I thought it could make a difference.

It is a discussion that we have to have with our families because many times family members, when a horrible event such as the death of a loved one occurs, are not in the state of mind where they can make a decision. Therefore, if we discuss it with our families and let them know in advance what our wishes are, it can make a huge difference for up to eight people. We can save their lives as well as what other donations such as corneas do.

Canadians treasure our health care system and we are very compassionate and generous in spirit, but the awareness is not there yet. Again, I want to thank my colleagues in the House for having this debate because it is important. It is making a difference, but we could certainly do more.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:25 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Madam Chair, many of us have had friends and family, individuals whether through idiopathic disease or congenital illness who require a transplant or, as in the case the parliamentary secretary outlined, in a crisis situation. As he mentioned, these are challenging circumstances, one that hopefully no one in the House, their families witness or have to endure, but some may have to do that in the future.

Whether it be the organization that the parliamentary secretary has mentioned, BeADonor.ca, or the numerous others, whether that be at the London Health Science Centre where I used to work, at www.lhsc.ca/transplant, or the Gift of Life Foundation, these are all organizations that try to ensure that Canadians are aware of the opportunities in order to contribute to other Canadians.

Could the parliamentary secretary please go through some of those specific items that Canadians can do in order to contribute to this most meaningful cause, to ensure that other Canadians who need help have access to those organs that they desperately need?

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Madam Chair, in her life before politics, my colleague had dedicated her life to kids. She has seen first-hand what the generosity of Canadians can do. I value her question. We should start on what we are doing here this evening. We are making Canadians aware that this is an issue. It is something Canadians do not think about. To start, each and every one of us has to make a decision ourselves as to whether this is something we feel comfortable doing.

As I said earlier, when I was young, it was something that I was very uncomfortable with; I did not even want to think about it. At the end of the day, however, I took those few moments and signed the back of my licence. Today there are other options available. My colleague mentioned www.beadonor.ca and the Living Donor Paired Exchange Registry. I think the most important thing we can do is to start talking about it and see the difference that we can make.

I have had the opportunity over the years to have patients who have received transplants and the difference is amazing. I have seen someone who was barely getting along make a huge change. It is like people are getting their lives back.

This is something where Canadians can make a difference. Each and every one of us has the opportunity to be a donor. People should take a few minutes, go to the websites and sign up. They should talk to their families about it. If, horribly, the situation arose and the family had to make that decision, the family would know that a part of that person could live on, and would allow another life to continue.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Chair, just as a follow up to my earlier question, in the same report that I referred to as background and research, one thing which bothered me was that it said that neither the CCDT, the Canadian Council for Donation and Transportation, nor Health Canada has devoted much attention to public awareness. No campaigns have been conducted since 2001 and 2002. The report I am reading from is from 2009. Maybe something happened in 2009 or 2010, but if that is not that case, it is worrying that the public awareness, education and getting people to sign up which, as the member has just said is so important in this whole issue, was not done.

I wonder if he has any comment on that. This is one issue on which there is commonality in the House. This is a very human issue. It affects constituents across party lines, of course. If we can encourage better public information, and if this was one of the mandates of the council, it worries me that we are not quite up to speed on doing the public awareness.

Maybe because he is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health he has more recent information, but this report made it look like not much had happened since 2002, which is somewhat concerning.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:30 p.m.

Conservative

Colin Carrie Oshawa, ON

Madam Chair, my colleague is correct in that there has been activity since 2009. I spoke about the Living Donor Paired Exchange Registry. It was launched as a three province pilot in January 2009. In 2010 Quebec signed on. It has become a Canada-wide registry. In Ontario, very recently www.beadonor.ca has come on line.

I would challenge the member and everyone in the House that we need to do more. This is something that day in and day out is not a high priority for people; people are working hard, running around, doing their jobs, looking after their kids. This is something on which we could make a true difference. As I have said, I have been honoured and graced to have treated patients in my practice who have had a transplant. The difference in their lives is huge. It is like giving them their lives back. It only takes a couple minutes to register. Each and every one of us should make that attempt.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:35 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Chair, I am pleased to participate in this very important debate this evening. In the rough and tumble of the life of Parliament, we can argue and disagree, but every once in a while an issue comes forward, and sometimes it is through a take note debate where there will be no vote, but at least we are able to express the concerns and issues we have around a particular issue. The issue of organ donation in Canada is a very important one. It is an issue that is deeply personal for the more than 4,000 Canadians who are waiting for organ transplants to save their lives.

Last year only 1,803 transplants were performed and there are many patients on waiting lists still. Unfortunately, the reality is that over 200 Canadians died last year while waiting for organ transplants. The greatest need is for kidney transplants. Seventy-five per cent of patients on the lists are waiting for kidney transplants.

We are all touched by this issue in various ways. I think of Garry Keller and what he and his family are going through. Our hearts go out to him and the struggle he is going through health-wise, as well as looking for a potential donor. This is very critical. Human stories are very difficult to share and talk about, but they help us understand what it is we need to do as members of Parliament, policy makers and legislators. I want to thank Mr. Keller for speaking out, helping inform this debate and bringing a sense of urgency of what it is that needs to be done.

We only heard recently about this take note debate, but over the past couple of days I contacted a couple of people who are very involved in this issue. I contacted someone who undergoes kidney dialysis and someone who is involved provincially in managing the liver transplant program. I would like to make a couple of comments about what these folks told me. It is one thing for me to talk about what is in a report, but when people hear it from those who are directly involved, it is ever so much more meaningful.

An individual who has been on kidney dialysis wrote to me today and said:

--to encourage all willing donors to sign their licenses, yes, but also to go on-line to register. If someone is in hospital dying (which is usually the case) the donor info pops up on the screen so the doctor can see that you are registered. If a family member is not right there or does not know, organs are then wasted.

This person went on to say:

...why cannot a national registry be created/maintained with this data so if someone does need a kidney suddenly (which is almost always the case) that the list of potential donors can be quickly [connected] and the appropriate action taken.

This is someone who is undergoing dialysis. That point is well taken. We have to understand what is behind it and that we need to do more.

I received an email from someone who is very involved in the system and is working with people who need transplants. This person said:

Every day people die and almost as hard, people are unable to be productive, contributing citizens while they wait...who are too ill to work and contribute. This applies to dialysis patients as well in many cases - they exist, but can't work at the same level as they would normally if at all....

The person went on to make the point:

It brings great comfort to the family of the deceased person to think they have made a difference in saving a life. Organ donation is the ultimate recycling. It seems odd to me that Canada with its reputation of helping others has one of the poorest organ donation rates in the modern world. We need to find a way to engage our people in organ donation including the people who have come here from elsewhere - using language, culture and reaching out to all.

That was an email from someone who works in the system coordinating the list in a province.

Canadian Blood Services has said that Canada is one of the few countries in the western world without a national coordinated system for organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The system as it stands today is at capacity and is struggling to cope with current needs and projected future demand.

I return to where I started, which is on the issue of public policy. We have a responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that our government is actually following through on recommendations that have been made. The Canadian Council for Donation and Transplantation was set up in 2001. I have no doubt that this body, which acts as an advisory body to the conference of deputy ministers of health, has done good work. I am not disputing that. However, we have not made the kind of progress that is needed on an overall pan-Canadian strategy. In some provinces there are very good systems. I was just speaking with one of my colleagues from Quebec, who told me that in Quebec there is a very well-organized system. There is good public awareness. I hope we will hear from the member later in the evening. He could share some of the experiences of what he knows to be happening in Quebec.

The fact is, as with many issues, it is uneven across the country. This report was done in 1999 by the health committee to draw attention to the gaps, inadequacies, and lack of an overall policy. It is rather disturbing and worrying that here we are many years later and not an awful lot of progress has been made.

Those are very important questions. We are debating some of these issues as we look at the health accord that was signed in 2004. As we approach the new health accord in 2014, a lot of questions that Canadians, advocates, the medical community and the health community are raising are around accountability, follow-through, knowing that we have procedures and programs in place to ensure that the systems are working the best they can, whether it is for organ transplants or for any other medical procedure.

I have concerns that on this issue we are not doing everything we could do, even on the level of public awareness. Obviously, we have to encourage people to come forward and to sign up, either online or in the various other ways of doing it, depending on where they live. There has to be a public awareness campaign.

As I remarked earlier to the parliamentary secretary, according to this report from 2009, there has not been an overall campaign, a big public awareness campaign in terms of multi-media, since 2002. This is a very critical factor.

We need to make people aware, particularly in multicultural communities where people may not be very familiar or comfortable discussing this issue. Surely, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that this information is out there in culturally appropriate ways, in different languages, in local communities, as well as in national campaigns to make it clear and to encourage people to sign up either as a living donor or to donate their organs when they become deceased.

Sometimes these are not pleasant things to talk about but it is part of our life process and it is a conversation that we should open up. Maybe, as members of Parliament, we can help open this up. I implore the government to look at this report from 1999. This is a job not yet finished on a very important issue.

I want to end by expressing admiration for the 4,000 Canadians who are waiting for an organ transplant. I recognize the struggles, hardships and difficulties they go through, some of whom are not able to work or are in pain. They probably all have a sense of anxiety. We say to them tonight that we know this and we need to act and follow through.

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Madam Chair, I thank the member opposite for her comments tonight. We can honestly hear the concern the member has for kidney disease transplants and transplants of different organs, as well as stem cell transplants.

The issue of kidney disease is something that a lot of people are dealing with, as well as other organ transplant issues. When I put on a big event in Parliament on October 6, 2010, we were then talking about OneSwab, OneMatch, OneLife, which was a stem cell donation needed for cancer patients. Our government contributes to the prevention of kidney disease through the Canadian Diabetes Society, the aboriginal diabetes initiative and the integrated strategy on healthy living and chronic disease. Chronic disease is something the health committee is studying right now. My heart goes out to Mr. Keller because I can see the trauma that families go through.

What specifically and personally has the member done or intends to do to make people aware? This is bigger than government. Each Canadian must contribute in a very meaningful way. Could she please tell the House some ideas she has to personally contribute to this awareness program with regard to the need for kidneys?

Organ Donations
Government Orders

7:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Madam Chair, the first thing we are doing is having this discussion and debate tonight, which is a very important element.

We represent 308 ridings across the country, from the north to the south, from large urban ridings like my riding of Vancouver East, to vast rural areas. One thing we could all do, and I will commit to do, is to get out more information locally. We have a great opportunity and an enormous privilege to communicate with their constituents. Maybe that is one thing we can all say we will do tonight, on an individual member of Parliament level, that we will send out information to our communities. In my case, because my community is very diverse and there are many languages, I would try to do that in a multilingual way.

However, I do feel that we need to go beyond that. This is a big issue that affects thousands of people. It is very important that we give some feedback to the government and say that more needs to be done at the national level in terms of public awareness and a coordinated system across the country, as I tried to describe in my remarks. I am not an expert on this, but we understand public policy and we know we need to put a system in place that works. We have very sophisticated technology these days. It is not rocket science. It is something that can be done.

Those are a few suggestions and maybe more will come up during the evening.