Quebec continues to shut door on kidney transplants from living donors


by admin on October 6, 2010

By Louise Schwartz

There’s a good-news health care story that got scant media coverage in Quebec. As a result, the average Quebecker is probably unaware of the report and one key aspect that touches some of them.

What’s the story? It’s the set up in 2009 of a Canada-wide registry for potential living kidney donors. This new registry is a promising initiative that hopes to significantly increase the number of transplants for Canadians with end stage kidney disease.

So what’s the issue for Quebeckers? Shamefully, Quebec is the only province that has not signed on to participate in the registry. As a result, Quebeckers with kidney disease are denied the same chance as other Canadians to find a suitable donor match through this registry.

At the end of 2009, almost one thousand Quebeckers on dialysis were waiting for a kidney transplant. The average wait time is two years. Even worse, since 2000 some 140 Quebeckers have died waiting for a kidney transplant.

The first living kidney donation took place almost 60 years ago in the United States, between two identical twins. Since then living kidney donation has become routine. Living kidney donors have traditionally been family members, spouses, or close friends, although non-directed (anonymous) donation is also an option.

Frequently however, potential donors are unable to help a friend or relative because their blood group or tissue type is incompatible. This is where the registry comes in to play. It is designed to match live kidney donors with suitable recipients. In what is called a paired exchange, the donors are matched with other compatible recipients.

Once an acceptable match is made, a swap occurs between two sets of kidney donors and recipients. The more pairs that register, the greater the chances of finding compatible kidney matches.

Quebec does have initiatives for increasing donation from deceased donors, the other major source of kidneys for transplants. However, transplant outcomes are better when the kidney comes from a living donor. Of note, a kidney taken from a living donor will last much longer.

In April, the Quebec branch of the Kidney Foundation of Canada wrote to the responsible provincial minister to highlight their surprise and deep disappointment in Quebec’s absence from the registry.

In their response to the Foundation, the Quebec government has cited budgetary and administrative issues for not signing on. But in this outside observer’s view, a more likely scenario is political sensitivity in participating in a pan-Canadian initiative.

The agency managing the registry, Canadian Blood Services, says that negotiations are still ongoing with Quebec. One can only hope that the Quebec government eventually listens to the medical community and advocates such as the Kidney Foundation of Canada.

Chelsea resident Louise Schwartz was a non-directed kidney donor at an Ontario hospital several years ago.