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What You Need to Know About Organ Donation in Canada

Anna Toane
Anna Toane
June 12th 2023 - 12 minute read
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Learn what you need to know about organ donation in Canada and the donor nuances in Ontario, Nova Scotia, and Saskatchewan.

Anna Toane

It can be difficult to think about what's going to happen to your body after you die, let alone donating your organs and tissue. Being an organ and tissue donor is a generous and worthwhile decision that can be a lifesaver for someone else. Many folks never consider donation or delay becoming “a donor because of possibly inaccurate information, here are answers to some common organ donation myths and concerns.”

Note that in this article we have provided general information for Canadians. As we operate as a cremation provider in Canada, we have also added sections that are unique to each province to support our regional clients. However there are linked resources provided in this post for all provinces.

Myths and facts about organ donation

The information in the list below was excerpted from from the Mayo Clinic:

Myth: If I agree to donate my organs, the hospital staff won't work as hard to save my life.

Fact: When you go to the hospital for treatment, doctors focus on saving your life — not somebody else's. You'll be seen by a doctor whose expertise most closely matches your particular condition and who can give you the best care possible.

Myth: Maybe I won't really be dead when they sign my death certificate.

Fact: Although it's a popular topic in the tabloids, in reality, people don't start to wiggle their toes after they're declared dead. In fact, people who have agreed to organ donation are given more tests (at no charge to their families) to determine that they're truly dead than are those who haven't agreed to organ donation.

Myth: Organ donation is against my religion.

Fact: Organ donation is consistent with the beliefs of most major religions. These religions include Roman Catholic Christians, Islam, most branches of Judaism and most Protestant Christian faiths. If you're unsure of or uncomfortable with your faith's position on organ donation, ask a member of your clergy.

Myth: An open-casket funeral isn't an option for people who have donated organs or tissues.

Fact: Organ and tissue donation doesn't interfere with having an open-casket funeral. The donor's body is clothed for burial and treated with care and respect, so there are no visible signs of organ or tissue donation.

Myth: I'm too old to donate. Nobody would want my organs.

Fact: There's no defined cutoff age for donating organs. The decision to use your organs is based on strict medical criteria, not age. Don't prematurely disqualify yourself. Let the doctors decide at the time of your death whether your organs and tissues are suitable for transplantation.

Myth: I'm not in the best of health. Nobody would want my organs or tissues.

Fact: Very few medical conditions automatically disqualify you from donating organs. The decision to use an organ is based on strict medical criteria. It may turn out that certain organs are not suitable for transplantation, but other organs and tissues may be fine. Don't prematurely disqualify yourself. Only medical professionals at the time of your death can determine whether your organs are suitable for transplantation.

What is Deceased Donation

According to Canadian Blood Services, a deceased donation is the process of giving one's organs or tissue at the time of the donor's death for the purpose of transplantation to another person. A single organ donor has the potential to provide as many as eight organs for transplant.

Organs and tissue that can be donated include the heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas, small intestines, eyes, bone, skin, and heart valves.

What is Organ Donation After Death

Organ donation is when an organ (e.g., heart, lungs, kidneys, liver) is removed from a deceased person and transplanted into another person.

Tissue Donation After Death

Tissue donation is when tissues in the body (e.g., skin, corneas, bone) are removed from a deceased person and transplanted into another person.”

Who Does Deceased Donation Help in Canada?

There are approximately 4,400 Canadians waiting for a lifesaving organ or tissue transplant. Not everyone in need of a vital organ receives a transplant.

In fact, on average, 250 Canadians die each year waiting, according to Canadian Blood Services. Public opinion data shows that 90 per cent of Canadians approve of organ and tissue donation yet, only 23 per cent say they have registered their decision to become an organ and tissue donor. With continued investment, support and collaboration across the country, a world-class organ and tissue donation and transplantation system in Canada is possible.

In order for your wishes to be respected, it’s vital you register your decision to become organ and tissue donor. It’s also important to share your wishes with your family and loved ones.

Organ Donation Process

The below is a direct copy from Closing the Gap, which is a guide to organ donation in Canada.

The process on the organ donor’s side:

  1. A donor must first be declared dead and confirmed as an organ donor before the donation process.
  2. Next, the individual’s organs are assessed by a medical team to see which organs are undamaged and suitable for transplants.
  3. The medical team will then start that conversation with the family about possible donation. The family still has final say on whether organs can be donated, so if the family believes the individual no longer wants to donate their organs, the medical team cannot proceed forward with the donation process. This rare situation most often occurs when the family was not aware that the donor has consented to organ donation, so it’s important to discuss with your family if you are considering becoming a donor.
  4. Once the family has been informed, the surgical team takes the organ donor to the operating room to have the organs removed for donation. This must occur as soon as possible, as organs only last a few hours outside the body before they start to degrade. They follow a procedure to package the organ properly and label it.
  5. The organ is then delivered to the transplant centre, where it’s prepared to be implanted into the recipient. Organs are usually allocated within the same province first, but can be offered more broadly if needed as long as they can still be delivered in time before the organ starts degrading.

The process on the organ recipient’s side:

  1. When a person is in need of an organ, their name is added to the National Organ Waitlist, which is operated by Canadian Blood Services. The position on the list is determined by the individual’s condition’s severity, so those who need an organ more urgently are moved to the top of the list.
  2. The patient is encouraged to always keep their cellphones on them so they can be notified right away when there has been a donor matched to them. Donors and recipients get matched based on blood type, and how severe the illness is.
  3. Once notified, the patient must come to the hospital for the transplant as soon as possible.
  4. The patient receives the transplantation surgery and may spend time in intensive care or intermediate care.

Eligibility and Registering for Organ Donation in Ontario

To register as an organ and tissue donor in Ontario, you need:

  • To be at least 16 years old
  • To provide your date of birth
  • To provide your health card number and version code (if applicable)

It takes only two minutes to change someone’s life:

  1. Have your health card number ready
  2. Provide your basic information including date of birth and health card number
  3. Register and fill out your donor form (you can register your donation decision or check your registration status with the province of Ontario on the ServiceOntario site).

Eligibility and Registering for Organ Donation in Saskatchewan

  • Any person 16 years or older with a valid Saskatchewan Health Services Card number can register their intent to be a donor.
  • Get an organ and tissue donor sticker and Intention to Donate form by calling eHealth Saskatchewan at 1-800-667-7551.
  • Put the sticker on your Saskatchewan Health Card.
  • Fill out the Intention to Donate form.

Eligibility and Registering for Organ Donation in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia has a unique regulation around organ donation that came into effect in January 2021. It is called deemed consent.

What it means is that Nova Scotians who don’t register to be a donor are eligible will be seen as having consented to donating their organs and tissues after death unless they actively opt out (see how to opt out here). Those people who are deemed to be eligible will be referred to the Organ and Tissue Donation Program to determine if they are clinically suitable candidates for donation.

People in Nova Scotia who are not eligible for deemed consent include:

  • Any person 18 or younger.
  • Any person without decision-making capacity.
  • Any residents who have lived in Nova Scotia less than 12 months.

A person who is not eligible for deemed consent may still be able to donate their organs if they, or someone on their behalf, consents to donation. For example, Nova Scotians 16 and over can indicate their wish to be a donor through their Health Card renewal process.

To register as an organ and tissue donor in Nova Scotia, you need:

  • Download the Nova Scotia Organ and Tissue Donation Form
  • Fill in the form and sign it.
  • Mail or fax the form to MSI (Nova Scotia's Medical Services Insurance)
  • Mail: MSI Registry and Enquiry
    P.O. Box 500
    Halifax, NS
    B3J 2S1
  • Fax: 902-481-3160

“Organs or tissue not suitable for transplantation can be used for organ and tissue research (if indicated by donor upon registration). This research is specific to the field of organ and tissue donation, and is not the same as whole body donation.”

A few things to keep in mind about organ donation:

  • Organ and tissue donation does not affect whether or not emergency crews will resuscitate you if you’ve been in an accident.
  • If you want major organs to be donated you’ll have to be at a hospital at the time of passing.
  • If you die at home you can still donate your body to medical science in Ontario (the excerpt below is a direct copy from the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General):

Whole Body Donation in Ontario

  • In Ontario, medical schools or Schools of Anatomy are dependent upon the generosity of persons willing to donate their bodies to train future medical professionals, enhance skill sets and expand knowledge.
  • Donating your body to science is different from donating organs and tissues to a living person. (For information on donating organs and tissues to a living person, please visit the Trillium Gift of Life website.) Body donation means that your whole body is donated to a Schools of Anatomy for educational and research purposes only.
  • It is important that you make your wishes to donate your body known to your next-of-kin. You may also indicate your wishes in your will.
  • Consent to donate your body can be provided in three ways:
    1) By filling out a consent form (Donation of Body to School of Anatomy) available from any School of Anatomy,
    2) In writing, as per section 4(1) of the Trillium Gift of Life Network Act or,
    3) Orally, in the presence of at least two witnesses prior to death.

If you choose organ donation and die in the hospital, your body will be removed almost immediately after you’re declared dead, given there is a window of opportunity for effective removal of organs and tissues. It’s important for family and loved ones to be aware of this.

It’s pretty remarkable what being an organ and tissue donor can mean for the receiver and this infographic illustrates the significant impact it can have.

“Organ donation is an opportunity to help people. One donor can benefit more than 75 people and save up to 8 lives.”

Registering to be an organ [and tissue] donor is a safe and thoughtful decision that can be done despite medical conditions or age.” In the US, “the oldest cornea donor was over 100!”

“Organ donation is a simple process and could save the lives of many people. Surveys conducted by Canadian Transplant Society showed that 90% of Canadians support organ donation but only 20% plan to donate. This may be due to misinformation about the process or the uncomfortable topic of death.”

While nothing makes losing my friend (especially so young) any easier, it is something to know she gave life to those who were granted a second chance.


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