I am pleased to participate in this debate today, Mr. Speaker, on the bill put forward by the hon. member for Ontario, a bill designating April 21 National Organ Donor Day.
I will start with a real life story. The story is set in Montreal's Sainte-Justine hospital. The year is 1959. It feels almost like yesterday. I was about to graduate from nursing school. Pierrette was a patient of mine. She was 14 years old and had been suffering from kidney failure for several years. Thirty years ago, haemodialysis and kidney transplants were still in the realm of science fiction. All this to say that Pierrette was dying. All she wanted was to sleep through the night but, one night, she went to sleep never to wake up again.
In those days, cases like Pierrette's were hopeless and therefore went untreated. The feeling of helplessness was extremely frustrating for all of us. Why her and not me? Science has made giant strides since. Over the course of almost 30 years of professional activity entirely dedicated to paediatric care, I finally saw hope rekindled in the hearts and minds of parents and caregivers.
Today, increasingly sophisticated technologies make heart, liver, lung and pancreas transplants possible. What was a virtually impossible feat in 1960 has become, today more than ever, a challenge to take on.
In 1995, in Quebec alone, 375 persons received the invaluable gift of life because 117 healthy people like you and me agreed to give the gift of life after their own life was over. There are nevertheless more than 500 Quebecers who are still waiting for a transplant and, across Canada, only 40 per cent of those who need a transplant actually undergo the operation. Scientific progress notwithstanding, the biggest problem remains the insufficient supply of organs to meet the demand.
According to Québec-Transplant, one of the factors contributing to this shortage is undoubtedly the fact that only an infinitely small number of possible donors meet the requirements for organ donation. In 1995, among the many donors referred, only 117 could be used to meet part of the transplant needs. So, if there are more donors, there will also be more people who will benefit from a long awaited organ transplant that will improve their quality of life.
This is why this bill is so important. One way to increase the number of donors is to run public awareness campaigns on the importance of organ donation. In that field, the most sophisticated
technologies are useless if people refuse or forget to give the gift of life.
Instituting a national organ donor day would help organizations such as Québec-Transplant and the Canadian association of organ donors to intensify their campaigns to recruit organ donors and to stress the importance of volunteer work in that sector.
This issue is very dear to me, partly because for four years now, Laval, which is the second largest city in Quebec and which is were my riding is located, has been running a campaign in April to recruit organ donors. I am proud to participate in that event as honourary copresident. I can see the positive impact of such a campaign in terms of encouraging people to pledge to donate organs, but also on the volunteers working in that sector. The organ donor month in Laval also provides an opportunity for various interested parties, including volunteers, medical teams and organizations, to consult each other to promote organ donation.
Police officers are a good example. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep appreciation to police officers in Laval, who are serving this cause by transporting organs and thus contribute to saving many lives. Since 1993, about 50 police officers have been called upon 325 times and have travelled over 39,000 kilometres to transport donor organs.
But the main goal is public awareness, so that people will sign they donor card and talk about it with their relatives and friends.
Organ donation is a sign of solidarity with people who need an organ transplant to stay alive or get a better quality of life. It can also give a meaning to death, because it is a gift of life.
Only through sharing and generosity can we solve the shortage of organs for transplants. Sooner or later, we all have to come to grips with the reality of death, our own or that of a loved one. The loss of our loved ones is always a cause for grief, but organ donation is a gift of life that can bring hope and peace.
However, some elements like the lack of knowledge about the organ shortage or the emotional drive to keep the body of the deceased intact all hinder an increase in transplants and make it crucial, at least for the people waiting for a transplant, that information and awareness campaigns be launched.
This is why I intend to submit to the health committee an amendment to Bill C-202, asking Parliament to recognize April as organ donor month, as is the tradition in Laval.
I think that, because of the extent of the organ shortage and the importance of this issue, we need to set aside a whole month to educate the public. Health is not only about science and technology. It is also a question of awareness and reflection and caring. Since life gives us all kinds of opportunities, I think we should also give life a chance.