Madam Speaker, it is an honour to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-223, an act to establish the Canadian Organ Donor Registry and to coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada.
This is monumental legislation and I am very proud of my colleague, the member for Edmonton Manning, for introducing it, as it will absolutely save lives.
My comments this afternoon will come from a different perspective than most of those who will have the opportunity to speak to the legislation. I do not presume to be an expert on organ transplant issues. Therefore, I ask the indulgence and patience of my colleagues as I share some of my personal journey over the past several years, some of whom may already know it.
On the May 2, 2011 election night, as my wife Betty and I were watching the early results of the election along with a campaign volunteer, Betty suddenly experienced a headache. Within seconds she collapsed to the floor. While she was breathing normally and had a strong pulse, there was no response. Minutes later, following a 911 call, local volunteer firefighters from the New Dundee detachment were on the scene to provide assistance. They were followed very closely by EMS personnel.
Betty was taken by ambulance to Grand River Hospital, placed on life support, and immediately transferred to a major health centre for more specialized care. ICU personnel and surgical specialists cared for her. They explained in some detail that Betty had experience a spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage and that in spite of surgical intervention attempting to stop the bleeding, their best efforts had been unsuccessful. The intense bleeding had applied extreme pressure to sensitive brain tissue and brain function had ceased.
After consultation with neurosurgeons and ICU doctors regarding Betty's neurological death, we now were faced with the question of the possibility of organ and tissue donation. We were then introduced to a team of very compassionate personnel representing the Trillium Gift of Life Network. They presented the options to us and provided the answers to all of the questions that were raised by me and my three adult children. There was no doubt in our mind as to what Betty would want to do. We knew that she would want to continue giving in the same spirit of generosity in her death as she had always done in her life.
Betty and I had also discussed this issue openly each time we renewed our driver's licence, and had always both agreed that should anything ever happen to either of us we would be open to the question of organ donation. We would want to help in that way.
As I reflect on the difficult journey of our grief during that difficult time, that journey of grief has been made less difficult by two key factors: first, our personal faith journey as followers of Jesus Christ, and our confidence in the resurrection and the certain hope that he gives us; and, second, our decision to follow through on Betty's wish that upon her death, if possible, her organs be donated.
Why not help out one of those thousands of people who are currently on the waiting list for a specific organ? Many of those who are waiting are still in the prime of life, and organ donation can make the difference between life and death. Our decision, while not easy, was made somewhat lighter knowing that someone else would possibly receive the gift of life, even as we journeyed into our own grief and loss.
As an aside, on a technical note, let me assure members of the House and Canadians that we can rely on the safety of organ transplants in our country. This is because of Canada's strong organ transplant community, and Health Canada's work in establishing rigorous safety standards and requirements through the implementation of the safety of human cells, tissue and organs for transplantation regulations.
In the years and months following Betty's death, the Trillium Gift of Life Network followed up regularly with letters of support, offering access to resources, and letting me know of the health status of the organ recipients. Five people had received the gift of life through organs that were transplanted: heart, liver, lungs, and two separate kidney recipients. In addition, others have benefited from the gift of her eyes, bone, and muscle tissue, which will aid in the transplant process. I know that because of our decision to donate, there are now at least five people enjoying fuller, richer lives, and even more who are benefiting from tissue transplants.
We are in a death-denying society. No one wants to think he or she will die before 80 or 90. Because of amazing medical advancements, many people will live to that age, and even beyond. However, we have no guarantee, as my family discovered so quickly, and with no advance warning of any kind. We know that 4,000 Canadians are waiting for organ donation at any given period.
In Ontario alone, more than 1,500 people are waiting for a life-giving transplant. More than 1,000 of those people are waiting for a kidney transplant.
It is easy to register one's intention to donate. In Ontario, one can simply go to the website beadonor.ca. Elsewhere in Canada, one can go to www.transplant.ca.
Right now, only 20% of Ontario's residents have registered their intent to be an organ or tissue donor. Why not go online right now and register?
In addition to registering, it is important for individuals to discuss this matter with their families. They should let their families know their decision and then register at beadonor.ca. This decision could very well save a life and offer hope.
Thousands of adults and children are counting on us and our fellow Canadians to give the gift of life. It is time that we as a nation closed the gap between the need for life-saving and life-enhancing organs and the supply of organs that are available. Why not take steps now to make a difference? It could be anyone: a son, a daughter, or a granddaughter who will be the recipient of our or someone else's good decision to register to donate our organs.
I think all my colleagues will understand why I seconded this fantastic initiative by my colleague. It really is unacceptable that 200 Canadians die each year waiting for an organ transplant when only 20% of Canadians are registered.
Canada needs a national initiative that raises organ donation awareness and encourages people to register to be a donor.
As I said at the beginning of my talk, a Canadian organ donor registry would save lives, and I am hopeful that all parties in this House will unanimously support this extremely important legislation.
Let me just add that I ask the government not to hide behind potential jurisdictional challenges and to support Bill C-223.