What you need to know about organ donation

Posted on: Apr 20, 2018

Registration in the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donor Registry (AOTDR) has surged in the past couple of weeks after the tragic bus accident which claimed the lives of 16 young hockey players and trainers from the Humboldt Broncos. This has a lot to do with the brave decision of Logan Boulet and his family, who in the face of unimaginable tragedy, made the decision to save and enhance the lives of many other people through organ and tissue donation.

Logan saved up to 8 people and likely enhanced the lives of many others. But he can also be credited with shining a light on organ donation. This will lead to hundreds, maybe thousands, more lives being saved.

At Registries Plus, we are able to register your intent and take your legal consent to be included on the AOTDR. Many people have concerns and reservations about providing this consent. Here are some facts that may be helpful to you.

Saving your life is always the first priority for your doctors.

Many people worry that providing consent to be an organ donor means that medical professionals will work less tirelessly to save your life. This simply isn’t the case. If you are ever unfortunate enough to suffer a traumatic accident or health event, the doctors at the hospital will make every effort to revive you, regardless of whether you are an organ donor or not. It is the law and everything in their medical training compels them to do so. Only after two doctors have confirmed brain death will the topic of organ donation be raised with family.

Organ donors can still have an open casket funeral.

Some people worry that being an organ donor means that their loved ones will not have an opportunity to pay their respects with a viewing or an open casket funeral. This is not the case. The dignity of the donor is maintained throughout the procedure to remove organs, so the body will not be disfigured. According to myhealth.alberta.ca, there is usually no way to tell after the removal that the person was an organ donor.

Signing the back of your health card is not consent.

There are many problems with this assumption. Firstly, if the consent is not dated and witnessed, this consent may not be accepted as valid. Secondly, your health care card might not be available to doctors at the time of your death, whereas they always have access to the AOTDR database.

You still need to talk to your family.

This is so important. Even if you provide consent, your family can still override your consent if they don’t believe that this was your actual wish. If you know that you wish to pay it forward and to live on through others in the event of your death, please have a serious discussion with your next of kin. One of the issues is that death can arrive unexpectedly. It’s an impossible position for a parent, spouse or child to be in. The best way to make this easier on your family is to have a conversation. That way, they aren’t making a decision or guessing about your wishes. Instead, they can provide the consent safe in the knowledge that they are honouring your final wishes.

You don’t have to be in perfect health.

Many people assume that if they are diabetic or if they have heart disease, their organs and tissues are not of any use to others. This might not be true. Doctors and medical specialists can determine if there are organs or tissues they can harvest to save or enhance lives.

It isn’t “all or nothing.”

The AOTDR is a sophisticated database that can record your exact intentions in regard to organ donation. For example, you may be fine with donating organs to save lives but not for medical research. You may provide consent to donate your kidneys, but not your eyes. You can customize your consent easily in our office at the time of your registration.

Organ Donation may or may not be against your faith.

If saving a life through organ donation is an idea that speaks to you, but you aren’t sure whether your religion allows organ donation or not, you may wish to discuss this topic with your religious leader or community, rather than assuming that it is prohibited by your faith. Our experience is that the answer varies greatly. It may come down to your personal beliefs. This is a decision which can make a difference of life or death for many other people, so it’s worth talking about.

You can register for Organ Donation at any time.

By law, registry agents have to ask you for your consent when you get a new driver’s licence or when you renew your licence. If you do it at that time, you will get a heart symbol on your licence to show that you are an organ donor. However, you can come into our office at any time to register your consent. We will provide the form, walk you through the options, witness the form and take care of faxing it to the AOTDR so you can be registered. There is no cost to you for this service.

If you don’t opt in, you have opted out.

In Alberta, there is no implied consent. What this means is that unless you make the effort to provide consent to be an organ donor, the hospital at the time of your death will assume that you do not wish to be an organ donor. In other words, say nothing and you definitely won’t have the opportunity to save lives through organ donation after your death. It is common in many countries worldwide to assume the opposite – unless you “opt out” of organ donation, it will be assumed that you wish to donate. This is not the case in Alberta.