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House of Commons Hansard #60 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was organs.

Topics

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

10:40 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Liberal Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Chair, I think there are about three or four reasons why.

First, people are reticent to donate organs because they are reticent to donate organs, especially living donors who ask where they would be left if they gave one of their kidneys and something happened that made their other kidney go wonky. Therefore people are reticent. It is a natural feeling. However, this is where it needs to be discussed, one on one, to understand that this is not a huge risk.

Second, a lot of people feel it will cost them money. This is a very interesting myth. People think that if they do this then they will have to bear the cost of the whole transplantation, when it is covered under medicare. People need to have that explained.

Third, a lot of people think there is an age limit to donation. I was reading the other day about a 102-year-old woman who donated to one of her grandchildren, and the organ was fine. There are some organs that can still be donated by people, the sclera on their eyes, et cetera. Age really has nothing to do with it, because once the organ is there then all of the people on the transplantation team decide whether that organ is a match, whether it is a safe organ, et cetera.

However, something that is very important is the ability of physicians and primary care providers to sit down, one on one, and talk with their patients about death, life and organ donations. It is not an easy thing to do, so there needs to be some kind of education of physicians and primary care providers to put this on the table and find ways to donate, to discuss it in a sensitive manner, to be able to answer some of the questions patients may or may not ask, or to be able to sit down with a family and talk about this. These are some of the things we need to look at clearly and to decide.

As well, as I said, this is being done in Ontario right now, or the Trillium Gift of Life Network is thinking of doing it, explaining to people who have already signed a donation card or their driver's licence that it is not necessary to go and seek family approval after that. It is a discussion that must happen. Most families say that because it is their mother or father they do not want to allow it, because they do not believe that when the mother or father agreed he or she was thinking clearly. However, sometimes we have to respect the wishes of people, and that needs discussion at the level of the physician and patient or primary care worker and patient.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

10:45 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Chair, it is an honour to have the opportunity to speak tonight to this important issue of organ and tissue donation.

My comments tonight will no doubt come from a different perspective than most of those who have already spoken. I do not serve on the health committee, nor do I presume to be an expert on organ transplant issues. So I ask for the indulgence and the patience of my colleagues as I share some of my personal journey over the past seven months.

On May 2, election night, as my wife, Betty, and I were watching the early results of the election, along with a campaign volunteer, Betty suddenly experienced a headache. Within seconds she collapsed to the floor, and while she was breathing normally and had a strong pulse, there was no response. Minutes later, following a 911 call, local volunteer firefighters from the New Dundee detachment were on the scene to provide assistance, and they were followed very closely by EMS personnel. Betty was taken by ambulance to Grand River Hospital, placed on life support, and immediately transferred to a major health centre for more specialized care.

ICU personnel and surgical specialists cared for her and explained in some detail that Betty had experienced a spontaneous intracranial hemorrhage and that, in spite of surgical intervention attempting to stop the bleeding, their best efforts had been unsuccessful. The intense bleeding had applied extreme pressure to sensitive brain tissue and brain function had ceased. After consultation with neurosurgeons and ICU doctors regarding Betty's neurological death, we now were faced with the question of the possibility of organ and tissue donation.

We were then introduced to a team of very compassionate personnel representing the Trillium Gift of Life Network. They presented the options to us and provided the answers to all the questions that were raised by me or by my three adult children. There was no doubt in our mind as to what Betty would want to do. We knew that she would want to continue giving in the same spirit of generosity in her death as she had always done in her life.

Betty and I had also discussed this issue openly each time we renewed our driver's licence and had always both agreed that should anything happen to either of us, which would open the question of organ donation, we would want to help in that way.

As I reflect on the difficult journey of our grief over the past seven months, that journey has been made less difficult by two key factors: first, our personal faith journey as followers of Jesus Christ; and second, our decision to follow through on Betty's wish that upon her death, if possible, her organs be donated.

I will briefly expand on both of those factors. As it relates to the tragic, premature loss of life, there are no easy answers, but these past seven months have been possible because we possess a profound sense of hope.

As I said just a little over a month ago in the chamber in regard to suicide prevention and Bill C-300:

Hope is dependent on having a sense of connection to the future, even if that future is very short-term.

Hope is the oxygen of the human spirit; without it our spirit dies.

This is a quote from Margaret Somerville of McGill University.

Each of us can relate to the importance of having hope in our lives. That hope may be a very short-term hope, such as getting through grade 5, or graduating from high school, or getting a driver's licence for the first time, or the upcoming weekend trip. For people of faith, a longer term hope, in fact an eternal hope, is ours because of our belief in the reality of the resurrection.

A colleague in this chamber recently used the phrase “death shall have no dominion”, crediting the phrase correctly to Dylan Thomas. In fact, this phrase finds its origin in the scriptures in the Book of Romans, chapter 6, verse 9, in the context of Christ's victory over death, a victory offered to each of us. My ultimate hope is in this reality that I will again see my wife, Betty, who left this earth just seven months ago yesterday.

I will return for a moment to that hospital. It was clear that Betty's physical life was over. Brain activity had stopped completely. We knew instinctively that the Betty we had come to know and love was no longer there. Her spirit was still very much alive but her body was only breathing with mechanical help. What to do?

Again, our faith has its foundation in the Christian scriptures, which uses many different metaphors for the physical body. It is referred to as a tent, a house, a temple, or even as clothing for the spirit within. So if the person who lived in that temple or had occupied that house or camped in that tent was no longer here to need any of those things, why would we not share them with someone in need?

Why not help out one of those thousands of people who are currently on waiting lists for a specific organ? Many of those waiting are still in the prime of life. An organ donation can make the difference between life and death. Our decision, while not easy, was made lighter by knowing that someone else would possibly receive the gift of life even as we journeyed into our own grief and loss.

Was there a downside to agreeing to organ donation? Yes, there was. We had to prolong the inevitable by agreeing to multiple tests in order to determine if in fact the organs were healthy and suitable for transplant. There were detailed personal history questions in order to mitigate any risks to potential recipients.

Let me assure members of this House and Canadians that they can rely on the safety of organ transplants in this country. This is because of Canada's strong organ transplant community and Health Canada's work in establishing rigorous safety requirements through the implementation of the safety of human cells, tissue and organs for transplantation regulations.

Today in 2011 Canada is now seen as a leader in the area of transplantation safety. This is reflected in the fact that our standards are recognized by the World Health Organization.

The additional tests required the continued use of mechanical means to keep her breathing for another day or more in order to conduct those tests, and then to allow arrangements for transplant teams to be put in place.

All through this, however, while sitting at Betty's bedside, meeting with family and friends in the intensive care waiting room and having Trillium Gift of Life personnel work through our intense grief with all of us, we were carried by our faith and by the knowledge that some good would come out of this very difficult time.

Over the past seven months, the resources of Trillium Gift of Life Network have been incredible. The network followed up regularly with letters of support, offering access to resources, letting me know the health of the organ recipients. Five people have received the gift of life through organs that were transplanted: heart, liver, lungs and two separate kidney recipients. In addition, others have also benefited from the gift of her eyes, bone and vessel tissue which will aid in the transplant process.

Trillium Gift of Life has also sent lists of books and other resources written for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one. One of those books on the recommended reading list is entitled, A Grace Disguised, written by Jerry L. Sittser. I highly recommend this book for anyone grieving. I have purchased more than 20 copies of it and have shared it with family and friends.

We know the need. Four thousand Canadians are waiting for organ donations at any given point. In Ontario alone, over 1,500 people are waiting for a life-giving transplant. Over 1,000 of those people are waiting for a kidney transplant. It is easy to register one's intentions to donate. In Ontario, one simply goes to the website beadonor.ca. Elsewhere in Canada, one goes to www.transplant.ca.

Right now only 20% of Ontario residents have registered their intent to be an organ or tissue donor. Why not go online now and register? In addition to registering, it is important to discuss this matter with one's family members. I ask everyone to please discuss it with them, too. This decision could very well save a life and offer hope.

I know that because of our decision to donate there are now at least five people enjoying fuller, richer lives and even more who are benefiting from tissues transplanted. We are in a death-denying society. No one wants to think he or she will die before 80 or 90, and because of amazing medical advancements many people will live to that age or even beyond. However, we have no guarantee as my family discovered so quickly and with no warning of any kind.

Thousands of adults and children are counting on us and their fellow Canadians to give the gift of life. It is time we as a nation closed the gap between the need for lifesaving and life-enhancing organs and the supply of organs available. Why not take steps now to make a difference? It could be anyone, a son or daughter or granddaughter, who will be the recipient of someone else's good decision to donate their organs.

This past weekend I walked in a Christmas parade with a heart and double-lung transplant recipient. I met many other recipients who have been blessed with the gift of life through organ transplants.

I know that every one of the recipients is extremely grateful for the fact that someone else took the time to register to be a donor, and now they as recipients are enjoying the gift of life.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Chair, I thank my colleague for his excellent speech and for sharing his personal experience. I have a rather simple question for him. I may have missed it, but I have not heard any mention of organ trafficking since the beginning of the debate. This is a serious problem around the world. Make no mistake, it happens in Canada too. People sell their organs on the black market. This topic was not brought up today, and I would like to know what the government thinks about this problem.

In Canada, there are not enough organs for the people who need them, and there are some people who traffic organs, which is illegal, of course. I would like to know what the government plans on doing to resolve this situation. I think it is something very serious. The government should play a role in taking these organs and giving them to people who need them, and in ensuring that the traffickers who make money from this illegal trade are punished appropriately. I would like to know what my colleague thinks about that.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

10:55 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Chair, as I indicated at the outset of my speech, I do not profess to be an expert on organ donation and transplantation, but I know that Canada has some very stringent guidelines in place as it relates to the safety of transplants. In fact, I mentioned in my speech the safety of human cells, tissues and organs for transplantation regulations. These regulations outline some of the most safe and medically sound methods of organ donation and transplantation.

The safety of organ donation and transplantation is a responsibility shared by numerous parties across Canada. I believe there are some 37 registered organ transplant programs in Canada. Operators of these programs are responsible for declaring that the organs they distribute are safe for transplantation in Canada. We have some very stringent guidelines in place. I share my colleague's concern that we certainly do not want to open up the possibility of a black market for access to organs for transplant purposes.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Joy Smith Conservative Kildonan—St. Paul, MB

Mr. Chair, I have to say the member's speech was possibly the best one I have heard in a long time in Parliament. It was very profound. Our hope is in the Lord and that is the most important thing. I find it ironic that I am standing in the House of Commons at this late hour and my colleague, who spoke so eloquently, had a wife who gave life to five people. I stand beside him as a very grateful person because a donor graciously donated stem cells so my husband could live.

In this country we foster a lot of confidence in the safety of human organs for transplantation. As we know, the federal government is responsible for the safety of donated organs from the perspective of product safety. The safety of human cells, tissues and organs for transplantation regulations came into force December 7, 2007, as was mentioned earlier.

Does the federal government regulate how donor organs are allocated across Canada? That is the other aspect to it.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Chair, I want to thank my colleague for her kind remarks about my speech. Certainly my colleagues in this House have been there for me through these past seven months in incredible ways. Their compassion, understanding and periodic questioning of how I am doing has been an immense encouragement to me.

My understanding is that the federal government does not regulate the allocation of the organs. We talked many times throughout our debate tonight about the areas of provincial jurisdiction, which we respect in this government, but transplant programs across Canada do share organs so that the most urgently ill patients in the country can have transplants first.

I think this is an important issue. When we think of the people who have been on waiting lists, sometimes for many years, coming to the end of their ability to continue dialysis or some other method of medical treatment, it is important that the most crucial needs be met first. Those who may be nearing the end of their medical treatment and are unable to continue on with that process are offered the gift of life and would be the first on the list to access those transplants.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Blackstrap Saskatchewan

Conservative

Lynne Yelich ConservativeMinister of State (Western Economic Diversification)

Mr. Chair, I want to acknowledge my colleague for taking us through the process in his speech.

Everyone who spoke tonight knew of someone who needed a transplant. However, we had not heard from anyone tonight on what it is like to donate or to be part of a transplant situation.

The member was first made aware through the hospital, and he had made a decision with his wife, using their driver's licences, that this was something they agreed to do. Are there other ways of creating awareness that the member can think of now, in retrospect, knowing what he went through? Are there other things that could be done to make people aware of how important this is?

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Conservative Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Chair, once a person goes through a situation like this, he or she becomes aware that there is so much more that could have been done. From here on, there is so much more that we can do.

Members of the House all have access to a regular communication piece that they can send out to their constituents. What would be wrong with raising that issue in a corner of a householder, maybe a quarter of a page, to point out that there is an urgent need and a long waiting list of potential recipients?

In these last weeks as we approach the Christmas season, I have partnered with the Trillium Gift of Life Network in some of the Christmas parades. This is an Ontario organization that does an excellent job of coordinating tissue and organ donations and organ transplants. It did an incredible job of working with us through those gruelling hours of grief. We have partnered with them in spreading the word. In our Christmas parades we handed out little cards with a Life Saver stapled to them. I do not know how many hundreds of people will have received that little card with a Life Saver stapled to it with the website address: beadonor.ca.

I think these are simple yet potentially very effective ways to spread the word and raise awareness. All one has to do is find the website and click on it. Once one is in that registry, it lists the different groups across Canada that are doing this kind of work.

I think if we started to brainstorm for a few minutes, even at committee level, we could come up with many more creative ideas as to how we, as members, could begin that discussion and then perhaps work with community partners at different levels of government to spread the word.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

Debate resumed. The hon. member for Sherbrooke has six minutes remaining.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre-Luc Dusseault NDP Sherbrooke, QC

Mr. Chair, I am pleased to conclude tonight's debate. It is an honour for me to speak about this subject. Unfortunately, I am not a member of the Standing Committee on Health like most of the members opposite, but it is a subject that is very important to me. As I close the debate, I would just like to summarize briefly and provide some statistics showing that Canada is experiencing a crisis with regard to organ donation.

As most of my colleagues have mentioned, over 4,000 Canadians are waiting for organ transplants to save their lives. Last year, only 1,803 transplants were performed. There are many patients on waiting lists. One rather alarming statistic shows that over 200 Canadians died last year while waiting for organ transplants. The figures are truly alarming. We cannot let 200 people die while waiting for transplants. That is unacceptable in Canada. Whether it is one person or 200 people, it is too many.

The government suggested that we have today's take note debate. Unfortunately, I did not hear the government come up with many new ideas or new ways of doing things. Members spoke at length about the fact that this is a problem that must be solved. However, the government did not propose any actual solutions. At this juncture, and in light of the statistics that clearly show that this is an urgent situation, the government must take action while respecting provincial jurisdictions.

In fact, every province has different ways of dealing with this issue, and the federal government must take the lead while respecting the provinces. It is the role of the federal government and the government members to assume leadership, move forward and help the provinces improve their system so that Canadians are even better served by their provincial and federal governments. This brings me to a quote from Canadian Blood Services:

Canada is one of the only countries in the western world without a national, coordinated system for organ and tissue donation and transplantation. The system as it stands today is at capacity, and is struggling to cope with current needs and projected future demand.

Those are not my words; they come from Canadian Blood Services. CBS has the experts in this field. That is fairly serious for a developed country like Canada, such a forward-thinking country, although it is less so with the current government. We have to change this as soon as possible. If Canada is the only country that still does not have an adequate system for addressing this problem, this should be corrected as soon as possible. I encourage the hon. members from the government to bring forward some solutions, and not just talk about it but really address the current situation, truly take action and become leaders in Canada.

I would also like to address something else. I asked hon. members from the other parties a few questions about the fact that people who have had sexual relations with members of the same sex often feel very excluded in the organ donation and blood donation systems. I have often heard people talk about that in my riding of Sherbrooke.

Those people do not feel like everyone else. It is terrible that some people in Canada do not feel equal to others. As my Liberal colleague said, technology and science have become so advanced that a single test can tell us with almost 100% accuracy whether a person is infected or not.

With modern technology—and my colleague who is a doctor by training knows this full well—it is time to give the government the chance to resolve this situation and allow people who feel excluded from the system to feel equal to me and everyone else in Canada. I encourage the government to take action to resolve this situation as soon as possible. I hope this will be done very quickly.

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Deputy Chair Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 11:13 p.m., pursuant to Standing Order 53(1) the committee will rise and I will leave the chair.

(Government Business No. 9 reported)

Organ DonationsGovernment Orders

11:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Conservative Barry Devolin

It being 11:13 p.m., this House stands adjourned until tomorrow, at 10 a.m., pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 11:13 p.m.)