This Blog was written by Natalie Rouse
On October 16, 1984, Stephanie Fae Beauclair (or better known as “Baby Fae”), a child born with a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, received a transplant of a baboon heart at Loma Linda University Medical Centre in California. This transplant was the first of its kind and was deemed to be successful. Unfortunately, there was a blood type incompatibility and Baby Fae’s body subsequently rejected the heart. She died 21 days later of heart failure. The reason a baboon heart was used was due to the fact that there were no suitable human hearts available at the time. The hope was that she could have received another transplant, a human heart the second time, at a later date; however, she died before that was possible.
Even today, there is a chronic shortage of organs and tissue available for transplantation in Canada. Over 1,600 Canadians are added to the organ donation waiting list every year and approximately 250 people die each year while awaiting a donation. Studies have shown that although as many as 90% of Canadians support organ donation, less than 20% are actually registered as donors. This begs the question – is the problem not with Canadians’ desire to donate, but instead with the current process by which they can do so?
As it stands, organ donation in Ontario is an “opt-in program”, meaning that you have to register as an organ donor to be recognized as one. In Ontario, organ and tissue donation is coordinated through and managed by Trillium Gift of Life Network. In order to register, you must do so through Service Canada, either in person or online. Anyone over age 16 can become a donor. The most common organs that can be donated are heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, pancreas and small intestines. Tissues can include eyes, skin, bones, veins, and tendons. Up to 7 lives can be saved by a single donor!
We all know that your Executor gets the final say with respect to funeral-related decisions. Similarly, in Ontario, your family ultimately decides about donation. This is the case even if you have expressed a wish in your Will, and even if you have registered as a donor. As such, it’s important for your family to understand your views, especially if it’s something you believe strongly in. It may be timely to do this as part of a larger estate conversation you have with them. Family members can be reassured that donation does not usually impact funeral or burial plans – it often happens at the same time as other arrangements are being made. Donation can also be done completely confidentially.
There are many ways that we “live on” after our death – through memories, through words of wisdom we’ve shared or gifts we’ve given. Possibly the most tangible way for this to happen is to become an organ and tissue donor. The idea that we could continue to help others and even save lives after our death is a wonderful one, and will hopefully continue to inspire Canadians to make the decision to donate today.