Thursday, February 21, 2008

Liberal Policy Series #3: Opt-Out Organ Donation: Saving Lives and Saving Money (Western Young Liberals Policy)

As some may recall, I wanted to showcase some of the policies that were put forth in the past year by Ontario Young Liberals clubs and passed as official Ontario Young Liberals polices at the Summer Fling event in North Bay (Aug. 2007). I thought what better way for me to do that then to let the individuals who authored these policies promote them themselves in their own words here on this blog. I will be showcasing 5 policies in this series. The first two were on Enforcing Standards of Practice for Canadian Mining Companies Operating Abroad (a policy I authored which was put forth by the Brant Young Liberals) and Giving Green an Advantage: GST Cut for Environmentally Friendly Products (put forth by the Peterborough Federal Young Liberals). I strongly encourage you to read them if you missed them.

The next policy in this series was definitely the most hotly debated among all those in this series and it remains a controversial one to be sure, but no one can say it's not important to address this issue - the passionate debate simply surrounds how best to do it.

This policy was put forth by the University of Western Ontario Young Liberals club and was written by Janie Fisher. The Western Young Liberals have been consistently one of the most active young Liberal groups in the province so it should be no surprise that they would once again successfully manage to get one of their policies passed as one of the top choices of Ontario Young Liberals. They certainly have every reason to be proud for getting this through and I'm sure they are continuing to work hard to see this issue gets more attention.

So what you see below is the submission I was provided by Janie Fischer on the policy she wrote that was passed this past summer at the OYL Summer Fling in North Bay and about why Canadians and the Liberal Party need to support this policy. Feel free to give your thoughts...

Opt-Out Organ Donation: Saving Lives and Saving Money

Thousands of Canadians are waiting for life-saving organ transplants. Their lives are literally placed on hold while they are forced to bear the debilitating and often deadly effects of their diseases and injuries. As a result, all must endure harsh and inadequate treatments, while living in hospitals for weeks or months at a time, only receiving enough medical intervention so that they can go home for a short while until their conditions again deteriorate. ‘Home’ in many cases is a misleading word, usually meaning only a closer local hospital instead of a larger medical facility located in a city-centre.

The most heart-breaking aspect of this state of affairs is that there is a cure available for all of these people in the form of an organ transplant; unfortunately, this cure isn’t available to them. Last year 147 Canadians died while waiting on the donor list. I personally have seen these people suffer, and I have watched them die waiting.

I wrote “Opt-Out Organ Donation: Saving Lives and Saving Money” in 2006 because I believe that the Liberal Party of Canada has always worked to alleviate human suffering, ensuring that all Canadians have a chance at life despite their personal circumstances. The Liberal Party must not shy away from a controversial debate that would be in the best interests of all Canadians. The Liberal Party must take a stand that it is unacceptable for Canadians to die while waiting for donor organs.

Presently, Canada has one of the lowest organ donation rates among the industrialized nations. Approximately 3700 Canadians are currently waiting for kidney, heart, lung or liver transplants, and thousands more are waiting for tissue replacements such as corneas, heart valves, skin, and bone grafts. With the statistics for successful transplants increasing every year, such as a 98% success rate for kidney transplants in Canada, it is a travesty that Canadians continue to die because too many Canadians are either not educated about the importance of organ donation, or choose not to make a decision out of their lack of interest or concern.

The opt-out, or assumed consent, system of organ donation is already in place in many nations, including Spain, Poland, Austria, and Hungary. The simple switch to an opt-out system has proven extremely successful, with the organ wait lists in these nations either extremely short or non-existent. By adopting this system of organ donation, all Canadians will automatically be organ donors unless they register otherwise with their provincial or territorial health authority. While saving lives, this policy has also been proven to save money, which is currently a major concern for the Canadian healthcare system. As one example, the cost of maintaining a patient on kidney dialysis in Canada averages $50,000 per year, while the cost of a kidney transplant is approximately $20,000, plus $6,000 per year thereafter. This means that the cost to the healthcare system will be $250,000 over five years for a patient waiting for a transplant, and only $50,000 over five years if a donor kidney is available.

This policy would only be put into operation after the Federal Government has implemented an organ donation awareness campaign, targeted at all provincial and territorial health authorities and healthcare providers, that would educate Canadians about the importance of organ donation and the new changes to the organ donor program. No Canadian will be forced to donate their organs, as the name “opt-out” makes clear; the new system will simply be one of assumed consent where all Canadians are assumed to be organ donors until they decide to opt-out of the system. Individual Canadians will still retain personal control over the decision to donate organs, but with this system the Liberal Party will take a clear stand in support of organ donation.

This policy garnered significant debate at OYL’s Summer Fling, and is clearly a contentious issue. However, when this policy is viewed as a life-or-death matter and as a clear means of implementing timely and cost effective medical care, it is clear that this policy is of benefit to all Canadians. While preserving the individual right to choose not to donate organs for any reason, this policy moves not only Canadian healthcare forward, but the Liberal Party and Canada in addition. Through the adoption of this policy, Canada would become an example to other nations of the positive outcomes associated with opt-out organ donation. This would only serve to strengthen Canada’s role as an international leader. After my own experiences, I believe strongly in this policy and its ability to save lives and maintain our Party’s position on working toward alleviating needless suffering of individuals here and abroad.

- Janie Fischer, University of Western Ontario Young Liberals

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