Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director of Nova Scotias organ and tissue donation program, is seen at the Halifax Infirmary in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Nova Scotia is the first province in the country to implement presumed consent for human organ and tissue donation. Under the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act all people in Nova Scotia will be considered potential organ donors unless they opt out. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director of Nova Scotias organ and tissue donation program, is seen at the Halifax Infirmary in Halifax on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. Nova Scotia is the first province in the country to implement presumed consent for human organ and tissue donation. Under the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act all people in Nova Scotia will be considered potential organ donors unless they opt out. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Nova Scotia’s presumed consent organ donation law now in effect

Legislation passed in April 2019 finally took effect Monday following more than 18 months of work

Nova Scotia is now the first jurisdiction in North America to implement presumed consent around organ donation, a move health officials believe could see a significant rise in the number of donors over the next few years.

Legislation passed in April 2019 finally took effect Monday following more than 18 months of work to ensure provincial systems were equipped to handle the change.

Under the Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act, all people in Nova Scotia will be considered potential organ donors unless they opt out.

“To my knowledge nobody else is close to considering this, but many places are thinking about it,” said Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director of Nova Scotia’s organ and tissue donation program. “We have an opportunity to transform a component of the health care system and that just does not happen very often.”

In an interview last week, Beed said the work to bolster the province’s organ donation program has focused on planning, education and public awareness.

He said the system has, in effect, been “rebooted” with the recruitment of several donation physicians and an increase to the number of system coordinators, who have also seen a change in their training. Overall, 27 new professionals have been brought into the system over the last three years.

In addition, a donation data system has been developed to assess the program’s performance. The province plans to spend $3.2 million this fiscal year to bolster the system.

“Overall I honestly think that the system change is the most important part,” Beed said of the shift to presumed consent.

He said that was the message delivered to Premier Stephen McNeil when he first approached health officials with the idea for the legislation.

“We said, ‘If you change the law all you really have is words on a piece of paper, but if you change the law and then support the redesign of our system then you have reason to be optimistic’.”

Beed said organ donation rates increased by as much as 35 per cent in European countries such as Belgium and Spain after they adopted an opt-out system, though he noted other jurisdictions that made the switch have had the opposite experience.

But one prospective organ recipient said the success stories abroad have left her more optimistic about matters closer to home.

“I am very proud that Nova Scotia is the trailblazer for this,” said Anita MacDonnell of Halifax, who is awaiting a kidney transplant.

“I was very encouraged when they announced this back in 2019.”

MacDonnell, who turns 60 on Wednesday, was approved for a new kidney last May and started dialysis in October.

She and her friend Brenda Mackenzie, also of Halifax, suffer from a genetic kidney disease that has seen several of their siblings and both of their mothers require transplants in the past.

Both women undergo dialysis three nights a week for four hours at a time and liken the life-saving process to having a part-time job.

Mackenzie, 60, describes her wait for a kidney as “pretty nerve-wracking.”

“So I guess my hope obviously would be that with this (change) that so many more people would be able to be transplanted,” she said. “That’s what the ultimate hope is.”

The new approach hasn’t received universal support on its way to becoming provincial law.

Some civil libertarians balked at the legislation when it was first proposed, raising concerns around governments having the power to tell people what to do with their bodies. Other opponents expressed potential cultural and religious concerns about the move.

Beed said he believes those issues have been addressed through the development of an opt-out registry and safeguards such as double checking with families to ensure the last known wishes of a potential donor are honoured. Those who tell their families that they don’t want to be donors will see those instructions respected, he said, even if they haven’t formally opted out.

In addition, certain groups will be exempt such as new immigrants, transient residents of Nova Scotia, and people who don’t have capacity to make their own decisions. Beed said talks are also continuing with leaders of religious and faith communities to ensure they are “engaged” with the system.

Peggy John, the acting director for the organ and tissue donation and transplantation program at Canadian Blood Services, agrees the opt out program will only be as good as the strength of the system put in place to support it.

John, whose organization is the national collaborating body for provincial transplant systems, said the end goal should be to increase the opportunities for transplant for patients who are in need.

According to the most recent figures compiled by Canadian Blood Services, 250 Canadians died while waiting for a transplant in 2019 — an increase from 223 in 2018. They also showed that Canada still has a shortage of organs, with 4,419 patients still waiting for transplants at the end of 2019.

John said the new Nova Scotia law will be an opportunity to observe and to learn about what might work elsewhere to potentially boost donation rates.

“We are keen to see what’s going to happen,” she said. “We know they (Nova Scotia) have been approaching this in the right way and we will continue to watch what the outcome will be.”

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Cowichan Valley Regional District will use fire hydrants to flush water systems in Youbou, Honeymoon Bay, Mesachie Lake and Bald Mountain in March. (Robert Barron/Gazette)
Water system flushing in Cowichan Lake communities in March may cause discolouration warns CVRD

Water pipes in Youbou, Honeymoon Bay, Mescahie Lake, and Bald Mountain targeted

The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce’s fifth annual Dine Cowichan festival returns March 3-28. (File photo)
Business Notes: Dine Cowichan Festival is back

A look at what’s going on in business around the Cowichan Valley

Kyle Topping  skates for the Cowichan Valley Capitals during the 2015-16 BCHL season. (Citizen file)
Former Caps make news in pro ranks

Kyle Topping and Laurent Brossoit mark achievements

Duncan’s City Hall will get a seismic assessment this year. (File photo)
Duncan City Hall to get seismic assessment

City hopes grants will help pay for seismic upgrades

Vandals damaged a picnic table at Spectacle Lake Park with a chainsaw earlier this month. (Linda Mills photo)
Editorial: Vandals make victims of us all

It is infuriating when people target public property for vandalism.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in B.C. woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)
Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is preparing a rapid response team proposal for submission to the B.C. Ministry of Education. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)
Nanaimo school district chosen as Vancouver Island’s COVID-19 rapid response team

Team to consist of SD68 and Island Health staff, according to B.C. Ministry of Education

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Ella Donovan with mom Tina outside Fuller Lake Arena before heading onto the ice for practice. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Young Ladysmith skater watches and waits in battle against cancer

Ella Donovan’s tumour began a tumultuous time, but community support eased the burden

Captain and Maria, a pair of big and affectionate akbash dogs, must be adopted together because they are so closely bonded. (SPCA image)
Shuswap SPCA seeks forever home for inseparable Akbash dogs

A fundraiser to help medical expenses for Captain and Maria earned over 10 times its goal

Most Read