April 22, 2014 1:53 pm

Alberta launches online organ and tissue donor registry

Organ donation pamphlets are handed out across Canada.

Leon Neal/Getty Images

EDMONTON – In an attempt to increase organ and tissue donor rates in the province, the Alberta government launched an online registry on Tuesday so that people can easily record their consent to donate.

Over the last decade, organ and tissue donations have dropped nearly 40 per cent in Alberta.

“One of the greatest gifts we can give each other is donating our organs and tissues,” said Minister of Health Fred Horne.

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“With more than 500 Albertans waiting for an organ transplant and many more waiting for tissues, registering your consent to donate on the new donor registry can make a profound difference in someone’s life.”

“In just a few minutes, with nothing more than your health number and birth date, you can arrange to donate all or some of your organs and tissues,” explained Premier Dave Hancock.

“Changing a life can be just that simple.”

According to the province, one organ and tissue donor can save up to eight lives and improve the lives of up to 75 other people.

Family members of organ donors as well as recipients were in attendance at Tuesday’s announcement.

Mandy shared how her family had discussed their wishes should they pass away, so that when her father passed away unexpectedly, they knew what he would have wanted.

“It was really, truly an extension of who he was in real life,” she said.

“He was very community oriented, and he would do anything for anybody.”

“To really drive home the impact of what one person can do for a community or for a nation, my father was able to greatly improve if not save the lives of 27 individuals,” said Mandy, and the crowd broke out in applause.

“It was really heart-warming to get letters and cards from recipients explaining how my father’s gift to them had greatly improved their lives,” she added.

“Have that discussion. Make your wishes known and help improve the lives of others.”

Provincial officials stressed the need for potential donors to tell their family about their plans and make their wishes known. A family member must sign an organ and tissue donation consent form, even if the person that has died has signed the back of his or her Alberta Health Card or registered online.

The provincial government passed Bill 207 (the Human Tissue and Organ Donation Amendment Act) in November 2013.

READ MORE: Alberta passes organ donation bill 

The Act established a single agency to co-ordinate organ and tissue donations in Alberta as well as created a consent-to-donate registry. Albertans who want to donate their organs and/or tissue can make those wishes official either online or at a registry when they renew their driver’s license or other identification. Upon written consent, the registry agent can then transmit that information to the Alberta Organ and Tissue Donation Agency to be included in the online registry.

Alberta Health previously said it hoped to have the new agency up and running by 2015.

“Organ and tissue donation saves lives and we need to make sure Albertans know how important it is,” said Calgary-Foothills MLA Len Webber, who introduced Bill 207 as a Private Member’s Bill.

In March, Webber left the PC Caucus to sit as an Independent MLA. 

Until now, Alberta did not have a provincial organ and tissue registry.

Currently, the province has the lowest rates of organ and tissue donation in the country.

“Alberta has fallen from roughly 18 or 19 per million population to less than ten per population,” explained Lori West, director of the Canadian National Transplant Research Program (CNTRP), “whereas many of the other provinces in the country have increased their organ donation rates.”

“The reasons for this are not entirely clear, but we believe that they may have to do with the organizational aspects of the donation system in Alberta,” West said prior to Bill 207 being passed.

West believes the creation of a provincial registry is one step that would help boost donation rates across the province.  She also says educational campaigns to raise awareness among the public as well as healthcare workers, and the online organ and tissue registry will help.

Alberta Health previously announced plans for new public awareness campaigns.

For more information on becoming an organ and/or tissue donor or to register, click here.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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