Despite success in other cities, Kitchener doesn’t have a program to increase organ donor registration
By Heather Abrey
Kitchener Post staff
An organ donation registration drive has seen great success in York Region, but the program hasn’t expanded to Waterloo Region, and one man wonders why the City of Kitchener can’t take the initiative.
Don Kraemer, whose wife is waiting for a kidney transplant, inquired with the mayor’s office about what could be done to promote registration. He was told that the matter is outside the municipality’s jurisdiction.
“[York Region] can do it, what’s Kitchener’s excuse?” he said.
“Why can’t they make an effort to try and help raise awareness? As shown in York, hey, they’re doing something.
“They recognize that their numbers suck. Kitchener is not as bad, but we can obviously be better.”
Kitchener currently has an organ donor registration rate of 28 per cent. Many of Ontario’s more northern cities, such as Sudbury, North Bay and Timmins, have registration rates nearing 50 per cent.
According to mayor Carl Zehr, the city can’t pick and choose which initiatives it supports.
“I have actually, for many years, been a donor personally,” he said.
“In terms of the city, it’s like a lot of other things where we get requests for endorsing or a proclamation of a day, or asking people if they would like to do this or that. We are very careful not to discriminate against any one particular organization.
“Therefore, we do not do proclamations for any organization, because should something come that would not be appropriate and we do not do it… then it could be said that we were being discriminatory.”
In the past, there have been lawsuits against other municipalities for perceived discrimination, he said.
Still, when the York Region Gift of Life Association approached city councils in that area, the support was overwhelming.
Nine towns and cities have signed up to participate in the York Regional Organ Donor Challenge.
“Over the last few months we have approached each one of those councils and made presentations and requested that they pass a motion to participate in this regional registration drive,” said Alyshia Van Veen, York Region Gift of Life Association founder and volunteer.
“We’ve had tremendous success in all nine of them through our presentations. All of the motions were unanimously supportive. The mayors are supportive; the council members are supportive.
“This level of support that we’ve received on our end, our understanding is it is sort of unheard of in Ontario.”
The cities make an effort to publicize the importance of registering as an organ donor, and the municipality that increases its registration rate the most wins.
Each municipality creates their own ‘Gift of 8’ page at beadonor.ca and chooses different methods of publicizing the challenge to residents and local businesses.
“Participation varies for each of these towns and cities depending on their resources, of course,” said Van Veen.
“Some of them have added beadonor.ca to their websites, for example, with a direct link to the registry. Others are promoting through their television screens throughout their town facilities. Some have added links to the bottom of e-mail signatures; others have put it on social media. Some are doing all of the above.”
Participating in the registration drive does not require a financial commitment from the municipality, and the York Region Gift of Life Association does not ask cities for financial support.
While this approach was successful in York Region, Zehr says it’s difficult for Kitchener to take on the matter as a city.
“Sometimes there are people who come to council to make their point, but we are trying to steer away from anything that is not a municipal issue for council meetings,” he said.
“We frequently do pass supportive resolutions, for example the infrastructure issues that [Federation of Canadian Municipalities] does, but that’s related to what municipalities are responsible for.”
Zehr said increasing registration rates has a societal benefit, and he personally supports it.
“It’s a fine line of trying to promote something on a personal level versus what the core responsibilities of a municipality are.”
Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht has been a supporter of organ donation since the loss of his wife Betty to a brain aneurism last year. Her organs helped save the lives of several other people.
“All of us, we would like to avoid the question of whether or not we will die early through accidental or sudden death like Betty did, but the reality is many of us will,” he said. “In that event, it makes no sense to have perfectly healthy organs, which could save someone else’s life, not available.”
However, Albrecht says this responsibility comes down to individuals, not municipalities.
“I think too often we look to government for the solutions when it comes down to having a discussion at the individual level and in talking to your neighbours, talking to your relatives and talking to your own family about the importance of this,” he said.
According to Van Veen, the group responsible for the York Region registration drive hopes that it will inspire others across the province, but there are no plans to expand in the near future.
“We’ve been very, very pleasantly surprised with the support, and it’s very inspiring for the community, I think, to see that sort of outreach,” she said.
To officially register as an organ donor, visit beadonor.ca. Carrying a signed donor registration card cannot guarantee your wishes will be honoured.