Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be a part of this debate. I compliment my colleague from Ontario riding for making not
only a very persuasive and compelling dissertation but one that was moving as well.
It is most unfortunate we have to make reference to such personal tragedies as that suffered by the Rumble family. We will try to take a positive view, as my colleague from Ontario did, and say that perhaps from one human tragedy we can do something that is worthwhile for the rest of us.
On the question of transplants and organ donations, the House may be aware that the kidney transplant is the oldest of the solid organ transplant procedures. The first successful kidney transplant between identical twins in Boston in 1954 ushered in the new era of transplantation.
Improved surgical techniques and new drugs to fight rejection enabled Montreal surgeons to transplant kidneys between unrelated persons in 1963. I mention this because I would hope that all those who are interested in the issue, not only from the political realm but also in society as a whole, would keep an appreciation of the activity of Health Canada and all Canadians working in this area.
This first transplant was followed in 1967 by a heart transplant performed by Dr. Christiaan Barnard of South Africa. A year later, in 1968, the first heart transplant was performed at the Montreal Heart Institute.
The use of the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin in the 1980s greatly improved the success of transplantation and contributed significantly to the growth of this procedure. Today transplantation of both organs and tissues has become an important part of health care and has contributed to improving the life expectancy and quality of life of thousands of Canadians.
One of the key barriers to transplantation remains the availability of suitable donor organs and tissues, as other speakers have noted. In fact, about 2,200 Canadians are currently waiting to receive an organ transplant. Waiting times vary depending on the specific organ and tissue required for a transplant.
The overall rate of organ donation in Canada is regrettably low: about 14.7 per million population as of 1994. Yet that represents roughly a 20 per cent increase from the 12.1 per million population in 1992.
Still, by international standards, as others have indicated, Canada could and should do better. While our rates are comparable to those of Australia, the United States has a donation rate which is about 50 per cent higher and Austria's rate is double that of Canada's.
According to a 1994 public opinion survey conducted by the Angus Reid group, 77 per cent of Canadians indicated a willingness to donate organs. Unfortunately, only 58 per cent reported having signed a donor card. Still this did represent an increase over the 1993 and 1992 levels, which were 56 per cent and 53 per cent respectively.
There is a considerable opportunity gap between those expressing a willingness and those who actually act on that willingness. However, what is very encouraging is that of those who had not signed a donor card, 54 per cent indicated they would do so if offered the chance and the opportunity to so sign.
That survey, by the way, pointed out some misconceptions about organ donations which may be impeding behaviour in this regard. I will cite a few examples.
Forty-three per cent of Canadians reported assuming that only those in excellent health would be able to donate. Thirty-eight per cent thought that organ transplants were more costly than keeping a patient alive through other means, such as kidney dialysis or drug therapy. Twenty-eight per cent thought that the organ donation would result in changes to funeral arrangements. Seventeen per cent thought that organ transplantation was not the most effective medical treatment for organ failure.
Despite these misconceptions, concerted efforts are and have been under way for some time in Canada to improve the public's awareness of and willingness to become organ donors. Among those taking a leadership role in this regard have been national and non-governmental organizations, such as the Kidney Foundation, as my colleague from Ontario pointed out, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Liver Foundation, the Lung Association and the Cystic Fibrosis Association. In addition, several national associations, including the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association, promote organ and tissue donor awareness through their professional journals.
These and other national organizations, including Health Canada, are members of the Canadian Coalition for Organ Donor Awareness, also known as CCODA.
Together, national and provincial governments and non-government organizations currently organize various public awareness and education seminars during national organ donor awareness week, which is the last full week of April.
My colleagues on both sides of the House have rightly pointed out that so far there has not been the rate of donation that we could expect to make such programs completely successful. That having been said, local hospitals and community groups have organized campaigns to heighten understanding and awareness of the importance of organ donation. If the House will permit, I will take the opportunity to give an indication of one such organization in the immediate vicinity.
The Ottawa-Carleton chapter of the Canadian Liver Foundation will host its seventh annual celebration of life service in appreciation of organ donors and their families this Sunday, April 21, at Christ Church Cathedral on Sparks Street. One should note that the church is wheelchair accessible from Queen Street. All are welcome.
It is organizations like this, activities like this, that give us a better appreciation of needs everywhere.
Within Canada the public and stakeholders in the organ donation programs have accepted the need for specific focus each year on efforts to promote public education about organ donation. This is an important health care issue for all Canadians and one that many national and provincial organizations are actively pursuing. It is one that Health Canada has been pursuing for a long time. We will continue to pursue it with the support of colleagues on both sides of the House and from organizations, provincial, municipal and non-governmental, everywhere throughout the land.
I thank the House for its attention on this most worthwhile topic.