Quebec establishes parliamentary committee to improve organ donation

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Greg Newing

Quebec’s National Assembly unanimously agreed to convene a special parliamentary committee to improve organ and tissue donation in the province. Pontiac MNA and official opposition critic for health, André Fortin, tabled the motion to establish the committee on October 17 to mark World Organ Donation Day. The committee, which is expected to begin its work in January 2024, will identify ways to improve organ donation processes in the province by, among other things, adopting a presumed consent or “opt-out” policy for organ donation.

The motion follows Fortin’s introduction of a presumed consent bill (Bill 194) for organ donation earlier this spring. He said the parliamentary committee will discuss the bill and hear from other jurisdictions who’ve adopted a presumed consent policy. If the proposed bill becomes law, Quebec will follow Nova Scotia and New Brunswick where residents are considered organ donors unless they choose to opt-out.

While the new policy seeks to increase organ donations in the province, Fortin underscored the importance of having a clear opt-out method. “There will always be people who will not want to donate their organs, so they will have a very easy, accessible way to signify that.” At present, Bill 194 proposes the same method for opting out as is currently used for opting in – by signing the back of your health card.

The committee will also focus on broader healthcare system reforms. “Presumed consent is significant, but it’s not the only thing we can do to improve organ donation. We have to look at our healthcare system and see whether it’s organized in a way that maximizes the opportunities for donation,” said Fortin. “The committee allows us to look at many issues at once, so we can have a societal conversation in Quebec about organ donation that prepares people for any legislative changes, but also identifies the best ways to reorganize the healthcare system to that end,” he added.

The committee will include members from all political parties. It will hear from provincial organizations such as Transplant Québec, The College des Médecins, The Fédération des médecins spécialistes du Québec, The Barreau du Québec and The Chambre des Notaires du Québec. As with all parliamentary committees, residents and other community organizations can make submissions.

There are about 900 people waiting for an organ donation in Quebec at any given time. Each new donor can save up to 8 lives and a single tissue donation can help as many as 20 people. According to Transplant Quebec, which coordinates organ donation in the province, there was an almost 20% decrease in organ donations at the beginning of the COVID pandemic in 2020.

“It’s something that goes across party lines. It’s an issue that touches those affected by it deeply and emotionally. That’s why it’s important we do as much as we can to improve the quality of life of people who are on the organ donation waitlist and who don’t know if they’ll be able to get one,” concluded Fortin.

Anyone can become a donor in Quebec, at any age, by signing the organ donation sticker sent in the envelope when a health card is renewed. Stickers are also available at public healthcare institutions and can be ordered online at https://publications.msss.gouv.qc.ca/msss/en/document-000076/.  Alternatively, residents can contact the Régie de l’assurance maladie (RAMQ) to register as a donor or request to be registered by their notary.