Most of us support improving and saving lives through organ and tissue donation, but only a fraction of us actually take the time to register.

This disparity between good intentions and actions has real-world consequences. While thousands of people have received the gift of life, others have died waiting because there just are not enough organs to meet the demand.

Today, more than 1,500 people in Ontario are on the wait list for a lifesaving organ transplant, and every three days someone will die without one. Some patients have been on dialysis for years; others are waiting for lungs to breathe on their own again; while others have burns so severe that they require skin grafts.

Older adults can donate too. Age does not preclude someone from becoming a donor.

By registering to become a donor, you can have the power to save or change someone’s life. One organ donor can save up to eight lives and enhance as many as 75 more through the gift of tissue.

A beating heart, strong lungs, a healthy liver or functioning kidneys will save the life of someone in the end stages of terminal diseases. Eyes can restore sight; skin can help burn patients; heart valves can help patients with congenital heart disease; and bones, tendons and ligaments can help people walk and run.

“Registering as an organ and tissue donor is one of the most selfless, altruistic decisions anyone can make,” says Ronnie Gavsie, president of Trillium Gift of Life Network, the agency responsible for overseeing organ and tissue donation in Ontario. “Based on the support we know exists for donation, we could put an end to preventable deaths on the waitlist if more people registered.”

So, what holds people back? Some believe their age or health prevents them from being an organ donor. In actuality, age does not preclude someone from becoming a donor, and each potential donor is assessed at the time of death for medical suitability.

Others may not have registered under the misguided assumptions of religious restrictions, but the fact is, most major religions support organ and tissue donation and may even encourage it, as it can save a life.

How to Talk with Your Family About Organ Donation

Once you have registered your consent to organ and tissue donation, the most important step is talking to your family about your wishes. You may find the topic of donation an uncomfortable one to think about, but when someone passes away suddenly, their family is often faced with a hard decision at an already difficult time.

The situation can be made a little easier if your family is aware of your wishes. Knowing that a loved one’s final wishes were carried out, and helped save lives in the process, can be a great source of comfort. Here are some ideas on how to talk to your family about organ and tissue donation.

  1. Prepare for your conversation. Think about possible questions and seek answers.
  2. Talk about the subject where it feels comfortable and natural. Where does your family feel most comfortable discussing sensitive issues?
  3. Discuss your wish for organ and/or tissue donation with your loved ones and anyone else who may need to know.
  4. Who would be called to your bedside if you were about to die? These are the people who will be involved in the donation process.
  5. Talk to them about your decision to register and listen openly to their concerns.
  6. Explain why their support is important to you and to people who are waiting for a transplant.

3 things you need to know about organ donation

When asked, most Canadians support organ and/or tissue donation. But in Ontario, only 32 per cent have formally registered their consent.

Perhaps there aren’t more organ and tissue donors because of misconceptions. Here, Trillium Gift of Life Network, the agency responsible for overseeing organ and tissue donation in Ontario, clarifies some information surrounding the topic.  

  1. People with medical conditions can be a donor. Everyone is a potential donor, regardless of any pre-existing medical condition. At the time of death, potential donors are assessed for medical suitability. It is best not to rule yourself out because it is always possible to save or enhance the lives of others through donation.
  2. Older adults can donate too. Age does not preclude someone from becoming a donor. The oldest organ donor in Canada was over 90, and the oldest tissue donor was over 100. There is always potential to be a donor; age should not prevent a person from registering.
  3. Many religions support donations. All major religions, including Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Sikhism, support donation or an individual’s choice. In fact, many religions even encourage it, as it can save a life. If you are unsure of your faith’s position on donation, consult with your faith leader.

You can find more information and register your consent to donate at www.beadonor.ca.

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