Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-316, an act to amend the Canada Revenue Agency Act (organ donors). I would like to once again express my congratulations and thanks to the hon. member for Calgary Confederation for all his hard work on this issue.
This legislation would give authority to the federal government to coordinate with the provinces and territories to allow Canadians to register as organ donors through their federal tax filings.
Canada's New Democrats will be supporting this measure, because we believe that it will help to increase registration rates. Organ donation registration has been proven to be transaction based, and tax filings represent a transaction that millions of Canadians engage in every year.
Indeed, this legislation aligns closely with the NDP's long-standing advocacy and legislative work around organ donation.
For over a decade, New Democrats have been working to create a pan-Canadian organ donor registry to coordinate and promote organ donation throughout Canada. Legislation to create such a registry has been introduced by New Democrat MPs on five occasions: in 2002, 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2013.
Unfortunately, our federal government over the last 16 years has not been able to muster the will to implement this policy.
In February 2016, the Conservative member for Edmonton Manning, whose own son has been the recipient of three donated livers, reintroduced this private member's legislation, Bill C-223, with the unanimous support of the NDP. Unfortunately, the Liberal government voted to block that bipartisan effort. Canada's New Democrats were profoundly disappointed to see the Liberals rush to this determination without even sending the bill to committee for study.
One donor can save up to eight lives and benefit more than 75 people. However, at 18 donors per million people, Canada's current donation rate puts us in the lower third of developed countries. In fact, Canadians are currently dying on wait-lists because our organ donation rate is so low. In 2016, there were 4,500 Canadians on the recipient wait-list, and 260 died waiting for a transplant.
In order to address this unacceptable shortfall, the House of Commons Standing Cornmittee on Health agreed to study Canada's organ and tissue donation procurement system in March 2016, once again as a result of the initiative of my hon. colleague from Calgary Confederation.
As part of this study, the committee heard from a range of witnesses, including representatives from Canadian Blood Services, provincial organ donation and procurement organizations, researchers, health care providers and charities. The committee learned that although some jurisdictions in Canada are considered centres of excellence in organ donation and transplantation, others lack the resources and capacity to adopt best practices in this area.
As a result, the rate of donors varies significantly by region in Canada. In 2013, Quebec had the most deceased donors, with 20.2 per million population. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, on the other hand, had only 7.2 per million. British Columbia is Canada's living donor capital, with 28 living donors per million people.
The committee also heard that limited public awareness and public discourse about organ donation mean there are also challenges related to consent for organ donation in Canada. In addition, witnesses called for more research and better data collection across Canada to help identify potential organ donors within healthcare systems and improve treatment outcomes for transplant patients.
New Democrats hope that the committee's report, tabled earlier today, and its seven recommendations will place a renewed focus on the need for federal leadership to improve Canada's organ and tissue donation system.
In particular, we are pleased that the report contains a recommendation calling for study of a presumed consent or opt-out system for organ donation, an idea that New Democrats believe could make a huge difference in the number of organs available to save lives. Unlike Canada's current opt-in system, an opt-out approach would automatically register all citizens for organ donation unless they choose to indicate otherwise.
Countries with opt-out systems consistently record higher donation rates than opt-in countries. Indeed, this approach has helped to make Spain a world leader in organ donation over the past 25 years. In Austria, the donor rate quadrupled after instituting opt-out legislation, and similar regulations in Belgium doubled kidney donations.
I would be remiss not to mention that during the committee's study, it became clear that there is tremendous confusion over whether gay men are eligible to be organ donors in Canada.
One could be forgiven for confusion on this point, since sexually active gay men are currently banned from donating blood in Canada. However, under regulations first enacted in 2007, men who have sex with men are eligible to be organ donors on a case-by-case basis. Apparently in our country, one can take a gay man's heart but not his blood.
Helen Kennedy, executive director of the LGBTQ2 advocacy organization Egale Canada, has described this approach as outrageous.
Dr. Paul MacPherson, an HIV researcher with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute's chronic disease program, has been clear that this ban does not match the science.
For men in stable long-term relationships, the risks associated with blood donation are exactly the same as those for a heterosexual couple. Given this, Canada should adopt a blood donor policy that is evidence-based, gender neutral and behaviour-based.
Although, by this standard, Canada's organ donation system also perpetuates harmful stereotypes based on risk categories that cannot be justified by the science. This policy leads to confusion for potential donors and an inconsistent application of the rules, which can have immensely tragic consequences.
When the Prime Minister spoke to Egale Canada this past May, he appeared to agree that the rules for blood and organ donation needed to be changed. In fact, he named “discrimination in blood and organ donation” as among the next frontiers of the LGBTQ2 movement.
However, it is difficult to comprehend the Prime Minister's call for advocacy when it is already within his power to end this discriminatory federal policy. In fact, in the last election, the Liberal Party pledged to end the ban on gay men donating blood, saying that this policy ignored scientific evidence and must end. Instead, the Liberal government simply reduced the celibacy period from five years to one year. This perpetuates discrimination against gay men. The New Democrats call for it to end now.
It is time for the Liberal government to finally live up to its word by ensuring Canada's blood and organ donation policies are truly non-discriminatory and based on science.
I wish to conclude my remarks today by strongly encouraging all Canadians to register as organ donors and to discuss their wishes with their loved ones. One donor can save up to eight lives through organ donation and enhance the lives of up to 75 more through the gift of tissue. There is always the potential to be a donor, so people should not let anything stop them from registering.
Each potential donor is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Current or past medical history does not prevent anyone from registering. Individuals with serious illnesses can also sometimes be organ and tissue donors.
All major religions support organ and tissue donation or respect an individual's choice. Age alone is not a barrier to being a donor. Therefore, I ask people to please consider giving the gift of life.
I wish to reiterate the NDP's support for the vital initiative before us today and affirm our commitment to ensuring every Canadian who needs an organ or tissue transplant receives it. No one should ever die because the call did not come in time.