Madam Speaker, through you, I thank and praise the hon. member for Kitchener—Conestoga for sharing his emotional experience resulting from a tragedy which occurred on May 2, 2011 in which he lost his wife Betty, and for supporting Betty's wishes to allow her organs to be donated after her neurological death because she wanted to give them in order to save the lives of others. It was a selfless and incredible gift.
Three years ago, I had the privilege to also bring forward a private member's bill on organ donation, as a member of the Alberta legislature.
The intention of the bill was to create a provincial organ and tissue donation agency. The bill progressed, was adopted into a government bill, and eventually passed unanimously by all members of the House.
The bill incorporated four key pillars, four components, to its content.
The first pillar was to implement an awareness campaign strategy to have advertising, billboards, literature, and bus benches. It was to encourage people to talk to their families to discuss their wishes in the event of a tragedy where their families may have to choose whether or not to donate their organs.
The second pillar was to implement an electronic donor registry.
The third pillar was to implement the training of health care staff throughout the province of Alberta, so that every hospital would have trained staff, ready on a moment's notice, to take advantage of an opportunity that may exist to procure organs in order to save lives.
The fourth and final pillar was to implement the intent to donate on a driver's licence. At the time, in order for people to indicate their wishes to donate organs, they had to sign on the back of their health care card. I found that unacceptable in today's world. The key to making a registry successful is to make the decision easy to make and easy to execute.
I strongly support the idea of getting one's consent to donate organs when someone obtains or renews a driver's licence or a health care card. However, we could even go further and ask it as part of a passport process or other formal registration process. Imagine if we could get the option to declare that a person is a willing organ donor on their income tax return form?
Today Alberta has over 250,000 people registered in its newly implemented organ donation electronic registry, and the numbers continue to grow.
Recently a team of experts at the University of Alberta's Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute made history by completing a record 31 organ transplants in just 10 days, indicating the progress that we have made in Alberta. However, there is a lot more work that needs to be done.
I have visited the University of Alberta Hospital transplant ward, and I have seen the results. I have met numerous people who have received the gift of life. What a moving experience it was. The emotions, the tears, the gratitude that these people had upon awakening, knowing that they had received a gift. It is something that I will never forget.
I have seen the need for a coordinated organ donation strategy first-hand, but I have also seen the results of a unified government that puts aside political stripes to support a positive cause.
This is not about partisan politics; it is about saving lives. I can only imagine the positive outcome of what a coordinated national effort could accomplish.
I, along with other members in this House, currently sit on the Standing Committee on Health. Our team is currently studying the issue of national pharmacare. This initiative is not about overstepping the boundaries of our provincial and territorial counterparts. It is about leveraging our strengths as a country to improve the system of pharmacare for all Canadians. Why can we not do the same thing with our organ and tissue donation procurement system in Canada?
Our Standing Committee on Health has already agreed to look into the issue of organ and tissue donation in Canada. It is only appropriate that we send the bill we are currently debating here in this House, Bill C-223, to that committee, to form part of the study and discussion.
It is not just our constituents and some politicians asking for this, but it is also experts in the field of transplantation right here in Canada, experts such as Dr. Lori West, director of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program. This is a national research network funded by the Government of Canada, dedicated entirely to increasing access of Canadians to transplantation and improving transplant outcomes. She is also the director of the Alberta Transplant Institute and chair of Canada research in cardiac transplantation.
Dr. West wrote all of us in this House just last week and said:
We believe that we have the opportunity to use this bill as the beginning of a national conversation toward improving organ donation in Canada. We strongly encourage your government to send this bill to the Standing Committee on Health (HESA) where we can work together with patients, researchers, health charities and government agencies to create a framework that will improve the national system to increase and support donation and transplantation.
In April of this year, the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Health said, right here in this House:
...our government recognizes the need for improvement in the organ and tissue donation and transplantation system in Canada. Collaboration, consultation and engagement with the provinces and territories as well as key stakeholders are necessary to address the complexity of the changes that are required in the system.
She says it is necessary to collaborate, consult, and engage with the provinces and territories, and key stakeholders. Why do we not send this bill to the health committee?
The hon. member and the hon. parliamentary secretary should talk to their caucus, talk to their colleagues, talk to the Minister of Health, and encourage support for this bill to go to committee so it can form a critical part of that deliberation.
In closing, rather than continuing to work in silos, our provinces and territories must work together under a national umbrella in order to improve organ donation in this country. We know registries work for organ and tissue donation. We also know that the larger the pool of donors, the better. It only makes sense that we combine our efforts and truly develop a national database that will help achieve our goal to save lives. Even if we are able to save only one life from our efforts, it will have been worth it.
I implore my colleagues here in this House to vote to send this Bill C-223 to the Standing Committee on Health, where the committee has already agreed to study this issue.