Nova Scotia Enacts Presumed Consent For Organ Donation

Written on behalf of Arbesman Hamilton LLP

There are many things that people should consider before they die. As estate and trust lawyers, we always remind our clients of the importance of planning for their eventual death by preparing wills and considering other items such as powers of attorney, trusts, and more. One consideration that is important to many, but not often a top topic of conversation is organ donation. Up until this week every province and territory in Canada required people to opt into organ donation. However, just this week, Nova Scotia implemented what is known as presumed consent for organ donation, which means that every adult in the province will automatically be considered an organ donor unless they opt out of doing so.

A goal to increase organ donation rates

The Human Organ and Tissue Donation Act came into effect on April 2, 2019. It made Nova Scotia the first jurisdiction in North America to have legislation requiring people to opt out of organ donation. Until April 2, Nova Scotians had to opt in as donors when receiving or renewing health cards. The goal of the law is to increase the number of organ donations. According to a press release issued by the province, “In 2018, 21 Nova Scotians became organ donors and 110 donated tissues like corneas and heart valves. There are 110 Nova Scotians waiting for organ transplants.” According to an article by the CBC, Nova Scotia hopes to increase donation rates to above 20% in order to match those found in some European countries. The article states that while 90% of Canadians say they support organ donation, less than 20% have opted into becoming donors.

Not everyone supports the change

The act won’t take effect for another year. In the meantime, supporters of the law are trying to quell the concerns of people who oppose it for any number of reasons. Some people are critical of the law because it takes away from the individual’s right to choose. Dr. Stephen Beed, medical director for Nova Scotia’s critical care organ donation program told the CBC these critics include those from the Catholic Church, which is supportive of people donating organs, but not supportive of presumed consent because it reduces a person’s ability to make an autonomous decision to give. Meanwhile some other religions have concerns about organ donation, how it is handled, or when someone should be considered dead.

Dr. Sam Shemie, who works with Canadian Blood Services, told the CBC that presumed consent captures people who would have opted into organ donation but missed their chance because they died before doing so. But she added, “At the same time, you have to protect people who don’t wish to donate. There are legitimate reasons, personal, philosophical, religious for not donating and any presumed consent or opt-out system needs to accommodate those people who do not wish to donate. And that’s been the experience in Wales as well is that it’s not shoved down people’s throats,”

Contact the experienced family and estate lawyers of Arbesman Hamilton LLP for excellent legal guidance for all of your estate planning needs. We work with our clients to help them achieve their long-term goals and objectives while ensuring protection for their family and loved ones. We can be reached online or by phone at 416-481-5604.