Recent changes to how the Alberta government accepts organ donations do not have any effect on potential donors in the NWT.
Granted royal assessment May 31, 2022, the private members bill, the Organ and Tissue (Mandatory Referral) Amendment Act, 2022, automatically makes anyone who dies in Alberta an organ donor unless they opt out ahead of time.
However, a notice on the NWT’s website notes that “the sections that set out the ‘opt out’ or ‘presumed consent’ clauses will not affect NWT residents who are in or transferred to Alberta due to critical injury,” it continued. “The ‘opt out’ or ‘presumed consent’ portion of the bill has several exceptions, including one that requires individuals to reside in Alberta for a 12-month period immediately preceding their death.
“Organ and tissue donation is 100 per cent voluntary, and the decision to donate is a personal one.”
Since 2020, anyone in the NWT who is 16 or over and wants to donate their organs or tissues posthumously can do so simply by filling out a consent form available through the GNWT’s website and sending it back in by means of email or postage. This will place a person on Alberta’s Organ and Tissue Donation Registry. To be officially placed on the registry “may take several weeks,” so the website advises those interested in providing their organs or tissues for others to possibly use to make sure to fill out their forms in advance.
Even once on the registry, final say on whether organs and tissues are to be donate or not is legally up to the family left with your affairs. Family members will be required to sign consent forms to give final release of organs and tissues. Organ donation is done for free and no additional expenses are included by doing so.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 2,782 solid organ transplants were performed across Canada in 2021, a six per cent increase from 2020, when 2,594 transplants were performed. That’s a jump of 23 per cent from 2011, when 2,235 transplants were needed. As of Dec. 31, 2021 there were 4,043 Canadians waiting for a transplant. The majority of organs needed are pancreas, kidneys, hearts, livers and lungs. In 2021, 247 people died waiting for a transplant.
No organ transplants are done in the NWT as the costs are prohibitive and require specific expertise. To be able to use a person’s organs — things like the heart, liver or kidneys — after their death, their body is required to remain hooked to a respirator until the organs are removed. Typically organ donations are only done when a person dies of severe head or brain trauma, such as from a motorcycle accident, an aneurysm or a big fall.
Tissues are a bit easier. These are things like the corneas of your eyes or bones. While organs typically need to be removed right away, tissues can be removed up to 24 hours after death in some instances. This means that in both instances, if you physically die in the NWT and not in a hospital in Alberta, chances are your taking your organs and tissues with you.
Donating living tissue, such as bone marrow, one of two kidneys or lobes of a liver, is also possible for people who have not died, but is not covered by Alberta’s Organ and Tissue Donation Registry and instead can be accessed by speaking to your physician. Visit https://tinyurl.com/bdh26e3s to learn more about donating organs or tissues in the NWT.