Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today in support of Bill C-202 which seeks to designate every April 21 as national organ donation day.
Oftentimes we are reminded there are only two certainties in this life, death and taxes. We can count on this government to ensure that we pay more than our fair share of taxes and at the same time we have learned that we can postpone death. While we cannot put it off indefinitely, it is possible to postpone it.
Advances in medical technology have allowed some people to do just exactly that through organ transplant surgery. It has given Canadians from all walks of life from all across the country a second chance at life.
Organ donation operations are no longer an experimental procedure. They have become so successful that the number of people on waiting lists in Canada far exceeds the supply of available organs. I commend my friend from Ontario for introducing this bill. It increases the awareness of this problem in Canada. As has been pointed out by my colleague from the Bloc, it is to give the gift of life even though the person is no longer there to see that gift being given.
Since organ transplants began in Canada, some 18,000 operations have been performed. In 1984 there were 500 transplant operations while 10 years later in 1994 over 1,400 such operations took place. That is the good news. The not so good news is that in 1992 there were over 2,000 people on lists waiting to receive organs and by 1995 the number had grown to 2,600.
As members of Parliament we should take the initiative to promote the benefits of organ donation. There are common misconceptions with regard to organ donation which I think we have a duty to dispel.
For instance, there are those who believe it does little to save lives and restore health but the facts indicate the contrary. Organ donation is a proven life saver with success rates ranging from 85 to 95 per cent. That is a pretty good gamble for somebody who requires a kidney. It is not what one would call routine surgery but it is certainly not experimental either.
Another common misconception is that organ donations and transplants are a financial burden on health care, that they are costly. Organ donations and transplant operations not only save lives but they save dollars as well. The issue of health care dollars, as was evidenced by our previous debate, certainly is a timely topic
at the moment. Health care dollars are becoming more and more scarce all the time.
As an example, for those suffering from kidney disease, a transplant operation would cost in the neighbourhood of $20,000 plus about $5,000 a year for follow-up treatment, whereas renal or kidney dialysis for the same person would cost around $50,000 a year. Coupled with that, if the person has a functioning kidney their quality of life and their productivity is certainly a lot better than it would be if they had to rely on a kidney dialysis machine.
Another reason I encourage members to support this bill is that it will increase public awareness. The government will have to get the public thinking about organ donation if the gap between availability and demand is to be filled.
One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of communication between family members. Not that I want to do a commercial for Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada but it did conduct a survey which found that only about half of Canadian families have ever discussed the issue and the circumstances surrounding organ donation. That is to say that only about half of them even discussed the matter and very few of those actually took the action of filling out a donor card, which is the first step.
Even though an individual may have signed the donor card, the family of a person who has just expired may express concerns and objections about the donation of a loved one's organs. As a matter of professional practice, the doctor will defer to the family's expressed concern. The result is that the organs will not be donated. They will not be used to benefit a waiting recipient.
One solution to this quandary is to have both spouses, the guardians or people who are indicated as next of kin in the event of death sign the organ donation card so that there will be agreement on whether or not the organs are to be donated. This will increase the timeliness and of course with organ donations timeliness is very important.
Perhaps there is a need for a national registry of potential organ donors. In case of fatal traffic accidents for instance, the personal effects including the driver's licence may be separated from the victim. If a person has filled out the organ donor card on the back of their licence, it does not really solve the problem if the driver's licence is in one place and the body is in another. Often too much time elapses before this is realized and by that time the organs may not be suitable for donation.
Another option is to have prospective organ donors registered with the Canadian Police Information Centre. There is access to the Canadian Police Information Centre all day every day. It is registered across the country. All that is needed is the authorization of the solicitor general and the police authorities in order to carry out this step.
Such measures would address waiting lists which continue to grow and lives that are needlessly lost as a result. In 1995 alone 1,114 Canadians died because they had not received a suitable organ for transplantation, an organ that would have restored their health.
I was astonished to learn that Canada has one of the lowest organ donation rates in the world. In Canada there are only 14 donors per million whereas in other countries the average ratio is between 20 and 30 donors per million. There is a lot of work to be done. As I have said before, that is the goal of my colleague from Ontario who would like to raise awareness of this problem and increase those numbers to make available more and more organs for donation.
Earlier I mentioned new initiatives the government should consider. In the interim Canadians should be made aware that they can do more than sign their driver's licences and register as donors.
Mutual Life Assurance Company of Canada sponsored an organ donation campaign called "By Mutual Consent: Breaking Barriers to Organ Donation". A number of non-profit organizations such as the British Columbia Transplant Society, the Kidney Foundation of Canada, the Canadian Transplant Society, Organ Donors Canada in Alberta and the Canadian Association of Transplantation are active in promoting and co-ordinating organ donation efforts.
Bill C-202 is an example of an effort to do more. It is a reasonable and worthy initiative which could complement other efforts designed to motivate people to give the gift of life. Along with national donor week which we celebrate at this time each year, which apparently is not exactly a national donor week but an Ontario donor week, the member for Ontario's initiative would promote and encourage discussion on the issue surrounding organ donation.
Reformers are pleased to support this bill as it would contribute to efforts to address this need proactively. In doing so it would save lives and improve the health and the quality of life of many Canadians. It would conserve precious health care dollars and encourage the public's awareness and discussion. I urge all members to support the bill, consider the issue themselves and discuss it in their constituencies.
After all, healthy Canadians are more productive Canadians. We are very concerned about the quality of life in Canada. If we as individuals or as a group want to ensure people will not be on waiting lists for organ donation transplants, we should be proactive in our approach.