Jan 2014
policy options timothy caulfield

Do organ donor policies need a rethink?

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Each of us could be a potential organ or tissue donor and save the lives of those in need of a transplant. For example, stem cells contained in bone marrow could help in treating people with blood disorders.

However, while almost 4,500 Canadians currently are on waiting lists for organ donations, almost one-third will never receive them.

So what will it take to get more potential donors to make the commitment?

Prof. Timothy A. Caulfield, a member of Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, considers the problem in a recent Policy Options article.

“Our current laws are looking antiquated,” he says.

Prof. Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, is studying policy options that could increase the number of donations.

If Canada is falling behind the United States and the European Union, then a “legislative rethinking seems warranted,” he writes.

Prof. Caulfield acknowledges that many approaches to increase donations come with considerable controversy. For example, offering financial incentives for donations can turn the process into a for-profit enterprise, with some people donating their organs only to get a financial award. He cites concerns that poorly a devised incentive system “runs an enormous risk of exploiting the most vulnerable and poorest members of our society.”

But the current “ban everything” approach just isn’t working, he writes.

“We need organ donation legislation that will allow innovative and ethically acceptable strategies to be tested and implemented,” he says. To do that, we need evidence-based answers to questions such as “Will a closely regulated, domestic incentive system necessarily result in exploitation?”

Click here to read the article.

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