Talk to your family about organ donation

In order to be a deceased organ donor, the donor must die from brain death (also referred to as neurological death), or circulatory death. In laymen's terms, brain death results from a severe injury to the brain, whereby the brain ceases to function. If the person does not die before reaching a hospital, the organs can be kept alive for a short period of time, allowing for them to be donated. This is highly uncommon, occurring in just 1% to 2% of all deaths. Extensive tests are done to make sure there is a complete and irreversible loss of all brain function before declaring brain death.

Circulatory death occurs when the heart stops beating. A ventilator can be used to help the person artificially breathe and circulate oxygen around the body. In these situation, treatment is only withdrawn (after discussing with family members) if is there no chance of recovery and death is inevitable.

People who die from other causes cannot donate organs, although they may still be able to donate tissue, including eyes, skin, bones, veins, and heart valves.

Consent for organ donation must be given by the family. When consent is given, a plan will be made to remove the ventilator. Since transplant operations are emergency procedures that need to be carried out with organs that are still functioning properly, it must be done quickly after disconnection from ventilator support.

All over Canada, support groups help the donor families deal with their loss.

The decision to donate organs requires much reflection. Families must base their decision on the wishes of their loved one who has passed away. So while registering as an organ donor is important, medical staff always discuss the possibility of donation with the person's family before a donation takes place. That is why your family must be made aware of your wishes to donate.

The challenge is that many relatives simply don't know what those wishes are. Although the majority of Canadians support organ donation, less than 20% have made arrangements to become donors.

These numbers touch on the need for people to express to their families that they would want to be a donor. Most provinces and territories allow you to register as an organ donor online. Those in Newfoundland and Labrador can indicate their intent to donate by completing the Medical Care Plan (MCP) application or renewal form.

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