Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this important issue. I thank my hon. colleague for bringing this important issue forward in the House of Commons.
Organ donation and transplantation is an essential part of health care in Canada. While there have been improvements in the rates of organ donation in Canada, we still lag behind other industrialized countries including Austria, Spain, Belgium, the United States and France.
Health professionals are keenly aware of the importance of organ transplantation both to save lives and often to reduce ongoing expensive treatment costs. Nevertheless, converting potential donors into actual donors is a difficult issue for many professionals. In some cases medical and surgical residents have difficulty in identifying potential donors. As well, a recent Canadian study indicated that only 35 per cent of nurses and 55.4 per cent of physicians knew how to refer organ donors.
An important issue for physicians and nurses is the difficulty and stress of discussing organ donation with family members. In the same Canadian study it was noted that 83 per cent of nurses and 75 per cent of physicians reported reluctance in approaching relatives of potential organ donors. Professional attitudes toward organ donation however are generally positive.
Co-operation from health care professionals does not require more education but rather more emphasis on the social and interpersonal issues. At the same time more efforts with regard to professional knowledge and involvement would no doubt be very helpful.
It is interesting to note that consent to organ donation among health professionals themselves does not rank much higher than among the general population. As a matter of interest, I, as a past health professional for 30 years have made the commitment to organ donation.
In 1994 a survey of physicians and nurses found that over 90 per cent of the nurses and 95 per cent of the physicians supported organ donation in principle. However only 61 per cent of the nurses and 63 per cent of physicians had completed a donor card. This compares to a 1994 public opinion survey which indicated that 58 per cent of Canadians surveyed reported having signed an organ donor card.
Further many Canadians do not discuss their personal views and intentions in this regard with their family members. This is a shame because in 1994 only 63 per cent of Canadians reported ever having discussed organ donation with a family member and 51 per cent indicated that they did not know what the wishes of their family members were with respect to organ donations. This adds to the difficulty experienced by health professionals in approaching family members and potential organ donors. Not only is it emotionally stressful to approach the subject but often family members are left in a quandary of simply not knowing whether their loved ones would want them to consent to organ donation.
Furthermore many Canadians know little about the actual process of organ donation. For example, 43 per cent still think only those in excellent health could do this. A few Canadians report fear, mistrust or uncertainty about the extraction process and 13 per cent fear AIDS or other infections. Moreover the study showed that 16 per cent of those not willing to donate expressed fear of maybe not receiving the best medical care by signing one of the cards.
Also, there may be few incentives for hospitals to become involved in organ and tissue procurement. In many provinces no funding is offered to hospitals for this procurement and hospitals must commit their own funds and resources to maintain potential donors until the organs can be recovered. The lack of financial compensation for physicians and the amount of time their involvement requires may also be further barriers.
Cultural barriers as well may be an issue here. And there may be an increasing number of important and difficult ethical issues
regarding the sanctity of the human body, including the extent to which medical technology should be used to delay death.
Thus public awareness and education while extremely important is only one dimension associated with improving organ donation in Canada. Several national and provincial governments and non-governmental organizations are already undertaking a variety of efforts to improve the level of knowledge of Canadians and of health professionals on various aspects of this issue.
Federal and provincial ministers of health are currently assessing the problems and barriers and we need to work with them. The ultimate goal of course is to promote a more concerted, collective effort in order to improve overall organ donation rates and enhance our ability to respond to the needs of Canadians.
All members of Parliament and the government have a responsibility in this. In closing I thank my hon. colleague for bringing this subject to the floor of the House of Commons. I wish it every success.