Life / Health

Saskatchewan premier eyes presumed consent to boost organ donation

REGINA — Premier Brad Wall says he would like to make everyone in Saskatchewan an automatic organ donor unless they opt out.

Wall said he wants to bring in a system of presumed consent for organ donation and the government is looking at what steps could be taken to protect such legislation from being legally challenged.

"My personal view is, if it's possible to have presumed consent that's consistent with the rights of Canadians and the Constitution, I think that would be a great thing to lead the country in," Wall said Tuesday at the legislature in Regina.

The Canadian Transplant Society said no other province has presumed consent.

Society president James Breckenridge said if Saskatchewan makes the decision, its policy must be carefully worded. Breckenridge said currently when someone dies, the person's spouse has the legal power to override an organ donation consent agreement.

"Right now we don't have any presumed consent in Canada," he said from Toronto.

"If the policy is 100 per cent carved in stone where nobody can change that donor (from) becoming a donor, organ donations would go way up."

Right now in Canada there is about a 10 per cent gap between the demand and supply of donor organs, Breckenridge said.

Saskatchewan's donation rate is low compared with the rest of Canada — less than one per cent of people who die in the province donate any organ or tissue.

A legislative committee was tasked with looking at ways to boost what Wall has called Saskatchewan's "dubious record" on organ donations.

Supporters of presumed consent told the committee it takes the burden off a grieving family to decide whether their loved one wanted to donate their organs, and it would also take the burden off health-care professionals to approach a family to gain consent.

But several organizations raised concerns that presumed consent may create fear and mistrust with the public.

The committee report tabled Monday makes 10 recommendations.

One recommendation calls for public education and awareness campaigns aimed at increasing knowledge about the importance of organ and tissue donation. A second idea suggests educational programs to help health care professionals identify potential donors and how to approach the family to gain consent for organ and tissue donation.

But the committee stops short of recommending presumed consent. It says implementation of such a system would likely be challenged in the courts.

It recommends the continued use of an enhanced opt-in system of consent for organ and tissue donation and the creation of an intent-to-donate registry.

Wall wants to go further because he said organ donation "fundamentally saves lives."

"We know that we have to do better in Saskatchewan," he said.

"We know this saves lives and so we're looking carefully at whether or not there are some things we can do from a legal standpoint to protect ... any legislative move to have presumed consent, to be part of the reality in Saskatchewan."

— With files from John Cotter in Edmonton