You’ve probably seen the ads promoting the need for more people to register to be an organ donor in Canada. Or, perhaps, you’ve read a news article or two detailing the journey of an organ transplant recipient.
90% of Canadians support organ and tissue donation, but less than 20% have followed through to register to be an organ donor.
At this point, it’s hard to miss the message – organ and tissue donors in Canada are needed to save the lives of those on the organ transplant list.
According to the Canadian Transplant Society over 1,600 Canadians are added to the organ transplant waiting list every year. Many of these people will die waiting for a tissue or organ donor match.
Interestingly, 90 per cent of Canadians support organ and tissue donation, but less than 20 per cent have followed through to register to be an organ donor.
As a caregiver, discussing organ and tissue donation is necessary to ensure the wishes of the person in your care have been recorded. Being a caregiver to someone with a terminal illness can result in a lot of sensitive, but necessary, discussions. An important aspect of your role is to understand and document any final wishes for the person in your care.
You may want to document the preferences regarding organ and tissue donation of the person in your care as part of their Advance Care Plan and make sure that all important health and medical information as well as financial and legal documents are organized and easy to access in case of emergency.
The person in your care may have different views than you on things like funeral arrangements, hospice care, or organ and tissue donation. These are all personal choices that are made by the individual to reflect their values and beliefs.
Respect their choices and do your best to record their wishes accurately. See also our Elizz article on Start an Advance Care Planning Discussion.
It may be the case that you didn’t get a chance to discuss the topic of organ donation ahead of time. If that happens you’ll have to use your best judgement and familiarity with the person in your care to come to a decision.
What organs can be donated
You may be wondering what organs or tissues can be donated. Like many Canadians, you may think of organ donation to include organs such as the kidneys, heart, liver, or lungs.
However, many other organs and tissues can be donated including the pancreas, small bowel, corneas, stomach, bone, skin, and heart valves. One organ and tissue donor can benefit more than 75 people and save up to eight lives.
Eligibility and restrictions on organ donation
Eligibility for donation of organs and tissues is determined at the time of death.
Often people think that there are certain restrictions on age, or that a pre-existing medical condition might restrict them from donating. However, this isn’t necessarily the case. In some situations an organ or tissue donation that may not be suitable for transplant is extremely useful for scientific research and medical education.
If the person in your care has registered to be an organ donor it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the process so that you are prepared.
Things that many people aren’t sure about and you may want to research further include:
- Timing – most organ and tissue donations need to be collected very soon after a death.
- Options for an open-casket funeral or viewing – the majority of organ and tissue donations are done in such a way that an open-casket is still an option for families of the deceased.
A lot of people can be helped through tissue and organ donation, but feelings about organ and tissue donation are as individual as the donors themselves. For many families it is the right choice, but for some it isn’t.
Organ and tissue donation is still a controversial topic. By learning more about the process you can help the people in your care make an informed decision.
If you or the person in your care has chosen to be a registered organ donor you’ll need to look to your province to register your consent or for direction on the registration process. Remember, after you register to be an organ donor it’s important to communicate your wishes with family and friends.
Elizz offers care for caregivers as well as support services for the people in your care. Feel free to contact Elizz if you have a caregiving question or concern.